Developing Talent: Pontiac Grads, Residents Get Construction Training

Partnership designed for employment in construction trade and future home ownership

Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County and Oakland University are helping Pontiac residents gain experience and employment in construction as well as home ownership. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County

Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County has partnered with Oakland University and other local partners to launch the Talent Development Coalition (TDC).

Comprised of more than 25 collaborating organizations across the business, education, nonprofit, union and government sectors, the TDC’s primary purpose is to connect individuals with sustainable training and careers. This summer, the TDC launched its Alliance Program, which offers construction training primarily to recent Pontiac public school graduates and city residents.

During the 12-week pre-apprenticeship program, participants are paid to spend three days a week at a Habitat worksite, where they learn building techniques and gain hands-on experience with residential renovations. The other two days, students attend classes at Oakland University. At the program’s conclusion, participants are encouraged to begin formal apprenticeships with construction companies or union programs or to further their education at Baker College, Oakland Community College or Oakland University.

“By adding apprenticeship to our volunteer model and engaging in workforce development, Habitat is creating a bridge to employment and home ownership,” says Tim Ruggles, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County. “Students over 18 who complete the program and are employed may also qualify to become Habitat homeowners.”

The program’s pilot cohort of three Pontiac residents recently completed the program. All three received full-time job offers immediately after from 1-800-Hansons.

“That’s really the success of the story,” Ruggles says. “Employment is waiting for participants upon completion of the program.”

Luis Sanchez, 18, is among those who were hired after the program ended. The Pontiac resident and recent graduate of Pontiac High School has always been interested in construction and spent two years studying it at the Oakland Schools Technical Campus Northeast.

Being in the Habitat training provided him with “more in-depth knowledge of how the construction field works from the inside and out and how to make myself a great employee for the construction world,” he says.

“We did cement, we did drywall, rough carpentry, siding,” he says.

Sanchez has been in his new job for two weeks, specializing in window trimming and siding.

“They pretty much hired us as soon as we got out of the program,” he says. “It’s working out great — probably the best job I’ve had so far.”

Recruitment is currently underway for the program’s second cohort, with training scheduled to begin at the end of the month. Ruggles says the ideal number of cohort members is 12 and that they are on track to reach that target. During their time with the Habitat build, the participants are exposed to all phases of the construction process.

“They’ll be exposed to the permitting process, carpentry, electrical, plumbing — the full range of residential construction,” he notes. “They will get to see how the pieces of construction work together.”

The TDC is recruiting applicants by working with Pontiac area agencies and school counselors to promote the program. Applicants are offered assistance from TDC organization volunteers throughout the application and interview process.

“What makes this program different from other pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs of the past is that students are paid while on the jobsite as well as in (the) classroom,” Ruggles notes. “It ensures they are able to support their expenses while in the program.”

During the pilot cohort, Habitat for Humanity provided the hands-on learning experience and supervision. Michigan Works! paid the students for a 40-hour work week and also offered classroom space and a tool belt and work boots for each.

Oakland University provided 10 hours per week of in-class training. The Pontiac Promise Zone funded scholarships to pay Oakland University tuition for granting a relevant continuing education certificate. Both 1-800-Hansons and REDICO/American House/Continuum Services financially supported the students’ career navigation.

“The TDC is a transformational construct which combines leaders and stakeholders from across all sectors and backgrounds,” Pontiac Mayor Deidre Waterman said in a news release. “Coming together under the banner of our 5-year-long OU Pontiac Initiative, the TDC will create meaningful programs for our citizens, community and economy.”

The Alliance Program also represents an effort to address the construction industry labor shortage.

“The program provides labor for the construction and renovation of affordable housing while bridging the career navigation gap that many people experience upon academic graduation or when between jobs or careers,” Ruggles says. “Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County sees this as a creative approach to community development and impact.”