Construction program provides jobs, livable wages

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Unprecedented investments are being made by the city and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in infrastructure projects. CDOT is reconstructing Interstate 70 from Brighton Boulevard to Chambers Road. The city is investing $778 million in phase 1 and 2 of the new National Western Center campus and an additional $937 million in infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.

These projects present an unprecedented opportunity to train and employ our residents for jobs in the construction industry that pay family-supporting wages.

I began working with CDOT five years ago to target residents living along the I-70 corridor for job training and employment opportunities. An impressive coalition including CDOT, service providers, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, training programs, construction companies, chambers of commerce and foundations came together to develop the WorkNow collaborative.

WorkNow is a new and unique structure that integrates construction industry job training and community resource partners to provide a comprehensive construction workforce readiness and career success program. WorkNow has brought the core partners together in a new way to help people find and keep livable wage jobs.

This approach is working.

In the first year and a quarter of operation WorkNow has enrolled 906 workers, provided 315 with basic training and 158 with training to upgrade their skills. Of those, 381 people secured a new construction job and 243 current workers were supported with additional training or services. Ninety-three people have been placed in registered apprenticeship programs and are earning on average $19.11 per hour. Others have been placed in construction offices, professional and craft jobs.

Fifty-nine percent of the enrollees received supportive services in the form of work boots, tools, transportation assistance, dues and fees. The one-on-one math tutoring program has achieved an 88 percent pass rate. Best of all, 80 percent of the participants are on the job after six months. This program proves that when you provide opportunity — training with support and job placement services — people succeed.

I have long advocated for Denver to adopt local hire-and-apprenticeship goals for city contracts. Why? It is a proven method to move people into jobs and careers that pay family-supporting wages and benefits. It is a way to make sure our public investments in infrastructure are also an investment in our people.

I am pleased that Denver is launching the Denver Construction Career (DCC) pilot program with apprenticeship goals for the large Elevate Denver bond projects. This is an important first step in developing a robust local hire-and-apprenticeship program. The DCC program establishes a goal of 15 percent of all project construction hours be performed by apprentices and implements targeted outreach, marketing and training to residents of economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, veterans, formerly incarcerated individuals, the homeless and those exiting the foster care system. The program will partner with WorkNow to ensure participants have the training and support needed to succeed in the program.

If you or someone you know want to learn more, go to www.work-now.org.

Deborah Ortega is a councilmember-at-large on the Denver City Council. At-large council members represent the city as a whole. She can be reached at ortegaatlarge@denvergov.org.

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