New initiatives in Portland provide building trades training

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PORTLAND — Two new initiatives designed to provide vocational opportunities in the building trades are being offered by city-based organizations.

The goal of both programs, according to Jason Shedlock, executive director of the Maine State Building & Construction Trades Council, is to “train the next generation of skilled craftsmen and women who are going to build and rebuild Maine.”

One program is offered through LearningWorks and is called YBA Bridge. The other, offered through the trades council, is called Building Pathways Maine and is designed to serve as a pre-apprenticeship opportunity.

While taking different approaches, both initiatives hope to increase career readiness for young people or those seeking re-training.

YBA Bridge, which stands for Youth Build Alternatives, provides an extended three-month internship for each student and paves the way for them to be successful in entering the workforce or a technical college program, according to Jennifer Belanger, director of YBA at LearningWorks

“Crossing the threshold into adulthood by going to college or entering the workforce is an exciting challenge for any young person. But the challenges for graduates of YBA are exponentially greater than those of their better-resourced peers,” LearningWorks said in a press release.

“Our students (often) deal not only with all of the emotional, logistical and financial ups and downs this transition normally entails, but many also face poverty, homelessness, mental health and substance abuse issues at the same time,” the release said.

With YBA Bridge, LearningWorks hopes to “radically change the way our graduates take their next steps by providing the right balance of support, structure and independence to ensure our graduates achieve sustained success,” the release added.

YBA Bridge is made possible with grant funding from The Hoffman Family Foundation, Belanger said.

She said YBA students are between the ages of 16 and 24 who have dropped out of high school. Belanger said going forward, all those who participate in the underlying Youth Build Alternatives will also be expected to take part in YBA Bridge.

While YBA “has long prided itself on being a place for students to challenge themselves, develop goals and aspirations and to make meaningful changes toward career readiness, (we’ve) had limited capacity to continue to follow students into their first work or college experience,” she said.

With YBA Bridge, the hope is to change all of that by being able to provide “robust follow-up support.” In addition, the bridge program will help to “alleviate the fear of employing a young person with a disrupted school history,” Belanger said.

She said LearningWorks would “pilot post-secondary and employer partnerships this summer with interested students in our current cohorts” and then fully implement YBA Bridge with incoming students this fall.

Shedlock said Building Pathways Maine, a no-cost, three-week intensive program, is specifically aimed at adult learners, women, people of color and immigrants in and around the Portland area.

The program is modeled after one created by North America’s Building Trades Unions and “will equip graduates with the knowledge they’ll need to make them attractive candidates for further education and training in the field of construction,” Shedlock said.

“Without an all-hands-on-deck approach, we’ll never be able to meet the skills and personnel gap in Maine’s construction industry,” John Napolitano, president of the Maine State Building & Construction Trades Council, added.

“We’re eager to play our part by engaging the community and helping them gain access to the good-paying jobs with benefits that our unions and our signatory contractors offer.”

Topics of study through the Building Pathways Maine program include industry and trade awareness, construction math, health and safety, diversity awareness and financial responsibility.

Applications are being accepted online through June 15 and classes start July 9 at the Portland Adult Education building, located on Locust Street

“Between the increased demand caused by an incredibly active development environment, our immense infrastructure needs and our aging workforce, we need to do all that we can to ensure people know about and are prepared for the opportunities in the building trades available right now and in the future,” Shedlock said.

He said Building Pathways Maine would not only benefit participants but local contractors as well by providing “a widened pipeline of skilled men and women ready to help them get the job done safely, on time and on budget.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Tyree Calhoun is enrolled in the Youth Build Alternatives program at LearningWorks in Portland. Thanks to a recent grant, he and other students will be offered follow-up support through the new YBA Bridge program, which is designed to help students successfully enter the building trades.