Chicago Defender- Building a bridge to construction jobs
By Andrea L. Zopp
Public infrastructure construction projects are booming again in Illinois, thanks to an influx of federal dollars to help pay for major improvements across the state. Yet, when you drive by some these projects—especially roadways—you may not find many African Americans working.
Access by African Americans to good-paying union construction jobs has been a pain point in the Black community dating back to the 1960s and 70s, when many of the trade unions fell under government consent decrees to diversify
Sadly, decades later, there’s been little progress and one could argue we’ve even lost ground with a work slowdown in the industry that preceded the recession.
Today, the Chicago Urban League, with the support of community partners like the Austin Peoples Action Center, the Black Chamber of Commerce of Lake County and Unites Services of Chicago and the Illinois Department of Transportation, is helping to rewrite the legacy of exclusion by identifying and screening candidates for a new, paid apprenticeship training initiative.
The Transportation Construction Apprenticeship Readiness Training, Referral and Intermodal Placement Program, or TCART, was created for African Americans and other disadvantaged groups who have
historically lacked access to coveted union apprenticeship training programs.
What’s different today is that this program has union support, and in Chicago, that’s a real game-changer.
The Chicagoland Laborers District Council Trainers and Apprenticeship Fund and the Local 150 operating Engineers Training Fund have partnered with us to provide math, computer and technical skills training at their facilities. The goal is
to refer a minimum of 125 program graduates and as many as 500 for highway construction jobs.
Getting sponsored into a union apprenticeship training program hasn’t been easy for African Americans. For decades, the trade unions operated like old boys’ clubs, primarily for white males. But in recent years, the number of white males joining the unions has dropped significantly. Today’s union leaders realize that to remain viable, they must make every effort to welcome minorities and women.
The record shows that these types of partnerships are working.The CTA Red Line South Reconstruction Project is a great example. The CTA provided training that gave people with no experience a chance to qualify for construction jobs. The agency also partnered with the Chicago Urban League to find qualified minority and women candidates to work on the project. This process yielded a significant number of jobs for our community on the multimillion-dollar reconstruction project. Others received training that qualified them to apply for future construction jobs at the CTA or for other
positions where they could use their newly acquired skills.
Like the CTA project, TCART will equip participants with the all-important life skills, including appropriate work behavior and tools to develop critical work habits, they will need to keep jobs.
In addition to screening for the TCART program, the Chicago Urban League and our community partners will provide
comportment and job readiness training, as well as math skills training to prepare candidates for intern positions and technical training.
The Chicago Urban League has been at the forefront of this issue of access for years because we know how
barriers to good jobs have had a significant negative impact on creating and growing thriving communities. An economic impact study released by the City Colleges of Chicago in 2006 found that exclusion of Black males, alone, from
the trade unions between 1980 and 2000 cost the Black community $5.9 billion (in 2005 dollars) in gross income. Partnerships like the ones with the CTA and IDOT are in line with our mission to provide access to economic opportunity for African Americans and build strong, sustainable communities.
For the record, we are not in the business of training individuals for the sake of training them. We willwork with the state, and our community and union partners to ensure that all those who successfully complete this program are placed in jobs.
This program is a win-win for all involved: trade unions will have access to a larger pool of qualified workers, and more African Americans and other underserved groups will have better access to jobs, some paying upwards of $70,000.
I encourage those who are ready to build a bridge to employment in the construction industry or know someone who is ready for this opportunity to contact the Chicago Urban League and learn more about out TCART program. We, along with our community and state partners, are committed to help you on the path to a great career.
Andrea L. Zopp is President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. For more information on the TCART
program, visit www.thechicagourbanleague.org.