Jack Miller
Pre-apprentice [right] observes masonry demonstration.

A New York City-based pre-apprenticeship program for public high school students and adult residents of city housing projects has attracted attention from a national owners group—and may even get a financial boost from the New York Yankees. The program, run by local building trades, has placed 750 graduates, most of them minorities, in apprenticeship training since 2001, with more than 80% still actively employed in construction. Current and former students say it has opened doors for them in New York’s booming industry.

“There’s a lot of mystery to kids in how to get into the building trades,” said Paul Fernandes, program CEO and chief of staff of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC). “This program puts some light at the end of the tunnel for them.”

The accomplishment has not gone unnoticed.

The program received a workforce development award last year from the Construction Users Roundtable, the Cincinnati-based owners’ group. Program officials are also talking with the Yankees to win a chunk of the team’s estimated $1-million community grant fund. But the amount and timing of that award remain unclear, the officials say.

Construction Skills 2000 had rough going when initially run by the city’s school construction authority with insufficient staff support, but it has bounced back under management by the BCTC, said Louis J. Coletti, program chairman and president of the city’s Building Trades Employers Association. He made his comments at a “hands-on” demonstration of craft training last month for more than 1,000 potential student and adult participants.

“We want you to be successful,” he told attendees. “Just show up on time and be persistent.”

He isn’t kidding. One unexcused absence results in dismissal.

The pre-apprentices have different motivations and stories.

Jack Miller
Tying rebar for flat slab, pre-apprentices join in.

Darryl Walker, a 43-year-old first-year painters’ union apprenctice, is hopeful a job in the painting trades will get him out of public housing. “I let myself slip through certain cracks, but I want to take advantage of this program. It’s free,” he said. “I chose the painters’ because we’re the last finishing trade and I get a thrill when people move in.” His $12.70 hourly apprentice rate will nearly triple as a journeyperson, according to program information.

At the demonstration, Jaime Goly, a 21-year-old second-year roofers’ and waterproofers’ union Local 8 apprentice, displayed craft methods to students. He says he first joined ConstructionSkills in 2005 but his intended effort to start a baseball career in college left him financially strapped. “In the union, you have benefits,” he said. “It’s a great backup for me.”

Participants take three hours of classes each week in the spring, which increases to seven hours a day for four weeks in the summer, said Fernandes. That is their introduction to tools, preparation for apprentice program entrance requirements and first experience with the work ethic, he added.

Graduates say program participation has moved them to the front of long waiting lists for entrance into to the building trades. “It was the easiest way to get into construction,” said Theanne Crattick, a 2004 program graduate and current plumber’s apprentice who earns up to $21 an hour. Noting that minority students are often resigned to minimum wage employment, she told attendees that she and her sister, Tiffany, a carpenters’ union apprentice, were once “right where all of you are now.”

Coletti said program training costs local unions and their contractors $20,000 to $25,000 per student, but the investment can pay off if graduates learn skills that can fill current and projected labor gaps in New York, where business is booming.

“If we don’t get these people now, we’re a dying breed,” said Liz Sgroi, an instructor for carpenters’ Local 157 in Manhattan and 11-year union veteran who started her industry career at age 42 after years as a dental hygienist. “Pre-apprenticeship programs pay off because graduates learn more math and science, can handle a seven or eight-hour day and are professional from day one,” she said.

Eric Kroll, 17, entered the construction skills program in February and is anticipating entrance into the tile, marble and terrazzo trades. “I’m now getting ready for the hands-on program this summer,” said the recent graduate of a Staten Island vocational training school (his father is a water treatment plant engineer for Camp Dresser & McKee). “It’s the most beneficial program I’ve ever been in and my parents are thrilled.”

Antonette Lisena, among the 196 freshman students at the High School for Construction Trades in Ozone Park, Queens that started last September, anticipates a college career as a construction management major and already has an industry internship this summer. “It’s an empowerment school,” said guidance counselor Jeannine Manning, noting the number of students in advanced placement classes. Students specialize in plumbing, draft or electrical work, she noted.

The program was renamed last month for Edward J. Malloy, a program founder and current BCTC president.