Detroit Training Center Empowers Local Community with Construction Opportunities
Recognizing the need for properly trained workers to remove blight and hazardous materials, Patrick Beal, President and CEO of the Detroit Training Center, founded the learning center in 2012 and now places nearly all students completing its programs in construction positions.
"Our big goal is to get jobs for our students, matching them up with employers," Beal says.
Beal had worked in demolition and abatement after graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in business. He had hired people through different programs. Those people had little experience or qualifications. He saw a need for educated construction workers.
"It was nice to train people who could start on day one and know what to do, instead of training them on the job," Beal says.
Marcus Jones, Director of the Center, has worked in construction, urban planning, real estate and green building. He graduated with dual master's degrees in urban planning and environmental policy. He also holds a LEED Green Associates Certification and serves on the board for the Green Schools Committee for the Detroit Regional Chapter at the U.S. Green Building Council.
"When I learned about what Patrick was doing and his vision, I saw it as a huge opportunity to make an impact not just in the construction industry but in the local community, getting people in the workforce," Jones says.
The training center's mission is to "provide adults with the knowledge, tools and skills needed to add value to their communities, families and themselves." A $100,000 grant from the Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's Motor City Match program enabled the training center to start a diesel mechanic program and open a computer lab.
An Increasing Number of Programs
The training center started with blight and asbestos abatement. Then it developed Occupational Safety and Health Administration-required courses, in English and Spanish, and lead removal. Now the center has grown to include multiple programs, including electrical safety awareness; qualified electrical worker; ladder and scaffolding safety; working in a confined space; excavating and trench work; hazmat reporting, working with a forklift, backhoe or other heavy equipment; commercial driving, sustainability and landscaping courses. Coming up are courses on operating low boys and double-train trucks. Classes are small, five to eight students per instructor. That gives the students plenty of time with the faculty and time on the equipment.
"Very few people have knowledge on operating those heavy, complicated pieces of equipment," Beal says.
All of the courses provide students with in-depth instruction and hands-on experience. The center keeps to a standard curriculum but also tailors the courses to meet corporate or individual needs. Graduates are able to compete on a local, national or global level. However, the center strives to decrease unemployment in the city and retrain its residents, so they can help with the revitalization of Detroit.
Paying for Courses
Courses vary in length from a few days to six weeks to two years for the diesel mechanics program. With engines, students start on small engines and work themselves up to the larger ones.
Some programs have an associated cost. The Detroit Training Center is approved to accept the GI Bill and helps veterans make the adjustment from moving heavy equipment in the military and into construction.
Large employers and workforce training organizations often pay students to attend the programs. All of the diesel mechanics students are sponsored and hired by an employer. The students then complete summer internships at that company.
"There is a huge on-the-job training component," say Beal.
In the training center's computer lab, students learn how to set up a professional email address, search for and apply for jobs and master other softer skills needed to find and keep a job.
"Even though we are focused on the technical side of training, we also need to cover the social and workforce readiness side," Beal says. "They need to know how to communicate with employers."
More than 1,500 students have completed Detroit Training Center programs, most of them Detroit residents. Graduates earn as much as $40 per hour.
Eighty-four percent of students find a job after completion of the program. They typically make more money after completing their studies than before they enrolled in the training program, Beal said. Most came from manufacturing.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook reports the median pay for hazardous material removal workers is $39,690 annually, with a projection that employment in the field will grow by 7 percent from 2014 to 2024. Construction equipment operators earn on average $43,810 annually and the jobs in this field are growing at 10 percent, faster than average.
The center's career placement specialist cultivates and manages relationships with employers. While the center currently works with a number of employers, Beal hopes to increase those relationships that will result in hiring of students completing their programs.
Detroit Training Center operates at two Detroit locations and is expanding to Flint, Michigan, another community with a need for blight remediation and redevelopment.
Learning the Equipment
Detroit Training Center has the small and heavy equipment people need to learn how to do scaffolding, asbestos abatement, woodworking, diesel mechanics and safety. Rob Chiles, President of Alta Equipment's Construction Equipment Division, helped Beal find a permanent location and provided students access to heavy equipment.
Alta was in the midst of growing, and Chiles wanted to locate the company in downtown Detroit and be part of the revitalization of the urban core. He found a location two blocks from the expressway and on a bus line, making it easy for people to come to classes. Detroit Training Center leases about 5,000 square feet of space from Alta. The space is adjacent to Alta's showroom and equipment yard. Alta lets students learn on its machinery.
"We couldn't be happier with what Alta has provided for us here," says Beal. "It's been a great relationship."
As a growing business with an emphasis on customer service, Chiles realized having enough service technicians is a key part of the value equation. But those people are difficult to find. Chiles started training technicians but realized high school graduates do not know the careers that exist in construction and equipment. Plus he wanted to focus on growing the equipment business. Detroit Training Center was already recruiting young people and began training service technicians to Alta's specifications.
"Now, when we need mechanics, we can go over and have our pick," Chiles says "They are training on Volvo, so they already know our machines."
Several graduates have found employment at Alta after finishing at the Detroit Training Center. Jones called it a "great collaboration."
Both organizations' leaders feel strongly about rebuilding Detroit and making a difference in the lives of it citizens.
"To change the community, you have to reach out and align yourself with the right people, like the Detroit Training Center," Chiles says. "It's going wonderfully. It's a great story."