Bay Area partnership prepares a diverse workforce for well-paying construction careers

580 200 California Economic Summit

(Photo: Green Energy Training Services Core Apprenticeship Readiness Programs) 

With rising demand for skilled construction workers in California, a Bay Area training partnership is helping lower barriers for Californians traditionally left out of the industry and its well-paying opportunities.

As part of the Summit's 2018 Partnerships for Industry and Education (PIE) Contest, we're featuring another one of the winning workforce development programs run by education and industry partners who are responding to a local need in innovative ways.

The Green Energy Training Services Core Apprenticeship Readiness Programs (GETS) prepares low-income individuals for employment opportunities in the construction industry in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The partnership consists of Rising Sun Energy Center, the Build and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County and Tradeswomen, Inc.

This year, the program is preparing 60 persons for apprenticeships, two-thirds of them African American or Latino, and 50 percent are women. In the nearly 10 years the program has existed, 767 people have completed the program.

We asked Travers McNeice, director of programs at Rising Sun Energy Center, to tell us more about the partnership:

California Economic Summit: Briefly tell us who came up with the idea of the partnership and how did you organize it? 

In 2014, Rising Sun partnered with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County to become an official Apprenticeship Readiness Program. While running our cohorts, we noticed that on average out of a class of 20 participants, only about two were woman.

Being a women-led organization, we knew that this was problematic, and women should have every opportunity to work in these well-paying fields. We also had often sat in rooms with Tradeswomen, Inc. and heard about their efforts to move the needle on getting more women into the building trades. In spring 2016, Rising Sun piloted its first all-women pre-apprenticeship Core cohort, now known as Women Building the Bay, as part of its Green Energy Training Services (GETS) program. The cohort was the result of crucial planning and partnership with industry stakeholders, which started in 2015 with funding from the California Workforce Development Board’s Workforce Accelerator Fund (WAF) 2.0.

With a project team that included Tradeswomen, Inc., the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, Alameda County Workforce Development Board, City of Berkeley, West Oakland Job Resource Center, and First 5 Alameda County, Rising Sun conducted best practice research and built curriculum, case management, and retention programming and services for an all-women cohort that would contribute to increasing the number of women represented in the building trades. 

Rising Sun and its partners continued to build on the success of that first cohort as a recipient of Prop 39 funding from the California Workforce Development Board. In partnership with those original groups, as well as additions including the City of Oakland Workforce Development Board, Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County, A2 Ventures, Bay Area Apprenticeship Coordinators Association, East Bay Trades Apprenticeship Pathway, and others, Rising Sun continues to run GETS Core cohorts, with a commitment to one Women Building the Bay cohort annually, with the aim of serving 50 percent women, and 40 percent re-entry populations.

Who was in your partnership and what were you trying to achieve?

The GETS Program has been running since 2009 and became an official Apprenticeship Readiness program for the Building Trades in 2014.The goal of Rising Sun’s GETS Core Apprenticeship Readiness Program is to provide a pathway out of poverty for low-income Bay Area residents experiencing barriers to employment. Through our partnership with Tradeswomen, Inc. and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, GETS uniquely specializes in preparing low-income women (50 percent) and re-entry individuals (40 percent) for apprenticeship in the building trades.

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County has been key to this partnership, certifying this program as an Apprenticeship Readiness Program and enabling Rising Sun to prepare our participants for careers in the trades. Participants who graduate from our program have completed the official Multi-Craft Core Curriculum and earn a nationally recognized certification from the National Building Trades. The Building Trades Council provides classroom instruction, facilitates networking and relationships with apprenticeship programs, and supports broader efforts like Project Labor Agreements, which help GETS Core graduates gain employment.

Tradeswomen, Inc. is one of California’s first organizations for women in the trades. Our partnership with Tradeswomen, Inc. was formalized in 2015; we ran our first all-women GETS Core cohort in 2016. Through this partnership, Tradeswomen, Inc. supports the recruitment of women for the GETS program, provides classroom instruction, prepares women to thrive in the trades and trains men to be allies, and provides mentorship and networking opportunities for graduates.

Rising Sun houses the program, managing recruitment and intake; all training including hands-on experience, professional skills, and math; as well as case management to help participants overcome barriers and job placement support. As a team, the partners empower low-income adults who experience barriers to employment to measurably boost their earning potential and economic self-sufficiency by delivering on the following measurable outcomes: 80 percent of GETS training participants will graduate; 70 percent of GETS graduates will be placed in employment, additional training, and/or union apprenticeship; 50 percent of GETS participants will be women; 40 percent will be re-entry; and 65 percent will be people of color; the average wage of those placed in employment will be $18 an hour or more.

How have students benefited?

The GETS program has a track record of success. GETS has trained 767 low-income adults to date, and GETS graduates have consistently increased their earnings, with average starting wages at least 40 percent above current California minimum wage. In 2017, 89 percent of GETS participants successfully graduated, 64 percent of graduates were placed in jobs or training immediately after graduation, and the average starting wage of graduates was $19.74. GETS serves those who are most in need of opportunities including those with criminal backgrounds, low education levels, and histories of homelessness. Through the training and support provided through the program, our graduates have been able to significantly change their lives and move from poverty into the middle class. 

How have you and other employers benefited?

Due to our network of partnerships, we are able to train and place folks in construction jobs with our network of employers. On large projects in the Bay Area there are Project Labor Agreements in place to ensure that women, veterans, local residents, and people of color are represented. Employers partner with Rising Sun to hire trained and job site ready individuals to ensure that they adhere to the local hiring requirements as outlined in the Project Labor Agreements. Employers get motivated and prepared talent. All GETS graduates start apprenticeships with a strong knowledge of the trades and a clear understanding of what will be expected of them, increasing the chances that they stick with the union through the apprenticeship period, at a time when the trades are seeing poor retention through the apprenticeship process.

For the last seven years the California Economic Summit has been working on making workforce preparation an imperative. What can other employers and educators learn from your partnership?

Right now, the industry is booming, and with baby boomers retiring and a skills gap in the market place, there is great demand for a qualified workforce. Now more than ever, there is an opportunity to diversify the Building Trades workforce and provide opportunities for those historically left out to embark on these middle-class careers.

An investment in Apprenticeship Readiness Programs is key to meeting this labor market demand. In 2009, our GETS program served 45 participants; in 2016, it served 53, and in 2017, 74. There is demand for our services and we have the tools to grow sustainably. We’ve explored direct expansion, affiliate models for scaling, and scaling through deepening our services. We are at a pivotal time to both expand what we offer and to share our existing, turnkey model nationally. We are always looking for ways to learn from and partner with other organizations to continue offering our services and training to people in the community who need it the most.

To register for the 2018 California Economic Summit on November 15-16 and hear from people representing winning partnerships, click here.

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