On Nov. 19, the second of two five-month-long pre-apprenticeship programs for Bronx residents gets under way. Nearly half of the first group of graduates of the DEP-funded effort are already working in the industry or enrolled in craft apprentice programs.

City-Funded Craft Training Becomes True Bronx Tale
Bronx Community College
Project H.I.R.E. students (left) could gain union craft jobs and work on nearby $1.3-billion water filtration plant now under way.
Skanska Civil
Project H.I.R.E. students (left) could gain union craft jobs and work on nearby $1.3-billion water filtration plant now under way.

The new training operation, made possible by $500,000 from DEP, is run by Project H.I.R.E., short for Help in Reentering Employment, a 22-year-old vocational training program managed by Bronx Community College.

The program has had other local sponsors in need of construction manpower, including the New York Yankees, now building a new stadium and the re-developers of the Bronx Terminal Market, according to Glenda M. Self, Project H.I.R.E. director. “DEP is offering the community an opportunity to gain union membership,” she says. “This is a distressed community with a large group of working age people.”

With DEP competing for labor along with other New York City agencies and private owners building megaprojects, paying to train a possible future workforce can’t hurt. “DEP wants to do as much as it can to ensure that more Bronx residents are on our job,” says Richard Friedman, an agency special counsel.

The agency-funded first Project H.I.R.E. class graduated 29 of 36 originally enrolled, Friedman says. Nine are now in union apprentice programs run by laborers’, sheet metal workers’ and painters’ locals. DEP also has funded construction pre-apprentice training efforts through the carpenters’ union and City University of New York. Of 21 recent graduates of that program, seven already are in the union and working in construction or facilities maintenance jobs in DEP or in local power utility Con Ed, he adds.

DEP Commissioner Lloyd (right) watches plumbing demo
Bronx Community College
DEP Commissioner Lloyd (right) watches plumbing demo.

Construction of the 290-million-gallon-per-day underground filtration plant began this summer by a joint venture of Skanska Civil, Whitestone, N.Y. and Tully Construction, Flushing, N.Y. It is scheduled to be completed in 2011.

The project was mandated by a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which requires the city to filter water from its older and more developed Croton reservoir located in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties to the north. Work also will involve restoring Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park as well as other recreational sites in the Bronx. The project could employ up to 1,000 workers at peak, says Friedman.

The Project H.I.R.E. training program requires students to build a mock apartment “from the ground up,” says Self. They construct the units inside an old engineering building on the BCC campus that already has metal floors. “Students build kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces,” she says. “We cover the main trades in construction—plumbing, electrical, plastering and painting.”

Self adds that students also learn how to do framing and drywalling, lay flooring, install plumbing, demolish structures and recycle materials. Students also learn blueprint reading, as well as resume writing and job interviewing skills, she says. Graduates meet with career counselors to match them with jobs based on skills learned. “I have former students who are now journeymen,” Self says.

hen the New York City Dept. of Environmental Protection chose a public golf course in the Bronx to build a mandated $1.3-billion filtration plant, community activists wanted something more than just cleaner drinking water in return. They sought plant construction jobs and career training for the facility’s neighbors, whose borough has one of the city’s highest jobless rates. Self says local animosity spurred by the city’s site selection for the Croton plant is beginning to ebb. “We are pleased to have a role in workforce development,” she says. Officials agree. “This is a good start and we will build on this,” says DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd. “We are committed to helping Bronx residents get jobs.”