The construction industry has a long way to go when it comes to creating a more diverse workforce. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2021, 87.9% of construction workers identified as White. In order to attract more people of color, the industry needs to take concrete steps to ensure it is creating ample opportunities for interested parties to gain the right skills and knowledge.
For Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, this starts with providing prospective union carpenters in Pittsburgh with the resources and hands-on training needed to be successful, which can start as early as high school.
U.S. News data shows within Pittsburgh Public Schools, 70% of students identify as people of color and 79.3% of students come from “economically disadvantaged” circumstances. To help the district provide a pathway to a carpentry career, the EAS carpenters have teamed up with Pittsburgh Public Schools through its Career and Technical Education department to provide a path to pre-apprenticeship, by educating interested high school students on basic carpentry skills.
Angela Mike, executive director of the career and technical education division at PPS, said the partnership provides a way to bring more diverse candidates into the industry and help to eliminate some of the obstacles that students may face.
“Many PPS students struggle with barriers, but with this partnership we have a formalized agreement and are working to ensure that we break down those barriers and help students get into the Carpenters Union,” Mike said. “With us working with the EAS carpenters and making sure that those students are in the pipeline and have the proper training, they can have a seamless transition into the workforce.”
EAS Council representative Steve Mazza said that because the construction industry has been facing a labor shortage, now is the time to bring in more prospective workers to benefit the Pittsburgh community.
“For Pittsburgh to grow and have more market share for family wage jobs, we need people to get on board and create that market share,” Mazza said. “We need to give people the opportunity to eventually get out of the cycle of poverty, and we can help through this partnership.”
Mazza said that PPS has implemented EAS’ Career Connections curriculum, which gives students an introduction to carpentry by helping them develop the fundamental skills needed to train as a carpenter and work on commercial buildings, such as hammering, tape measuring and drywall.
“We teach the theory in the classroom and then students go out on the floor and learn how to do all the things needed to do to become carpenters,” Mazza said. “This program helps with building wealth in the community because it provides upward mobility.”
Mike said the EAS carpenters worked with teachers in the Career and Technical Education department to ensure that the curriculum aligned with the task list of standards set forth by the Department of Education.
She added that through this partnership, students have been working on a project that involves building tiny houses for the community. A second tiny houses project is set to begin in the upcoming school year.
“Working with the Carpenters’ Union as well as talking to former PPS students who are now in the Carpenters’ Union, we can see that there have been great results from the program,” Mike said. “With the formalization of the program, we’ve been seeing more students who are interested.”
Mike said that several officials and organizations within the Pittsburgh community came together to support this initiative.
“We’re fortunate that we have the support of the mayor and real estate investment company The Buccini/Pollin Group as well as F&B Bank, who offered to help with transportation and purchased work boots for the five students in our program who will enter the Carpenters’ Union,” Mike said. “We were also able to get toolkits donated from Lowe’s. These partners have supported us along the way and continue to support us to help these students transition into the workforce.”
Mike and Mazza, who are both Pittsburgh natives, said this partnership has been a great way for students to give back to their community and they have been excited about the partnership’s ability to pave the way for more job opportunities in the region.
“There are a lot of barriers still out there, but we’re putting our best foot forward and we want this program to help people,” Mazza said. “At the end of the day, our program involves working together, raising families up and building that community.”