Since 2010, the nonprofit Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse has been tucked into a modest space in the 2100 block of Dempster Street, between a sprawling U-Haul Rental business and a storefront church. The materials re-use warehouse is not only a 13,500-square-foot retail store of salvaged building materials, it is also the home base for an ambitious workforce training program that was launched in 2014.
The Workforce is a job training program that offers comprehensive instruction in the fields of building construction and deconstruction. The program is closely aligned to the ERW’s ecological mission: reusing and recycling to limit the amount of material going into landfills. ERW offers five months of paid job training and life skills training to highly motivated individuals facing formidable obstacles to employment.
Anne Nicklin, Director of Workforce Training and Deconstruction Services at the ERW, says, “We think of ourselves as a stabilization employer. Often our trainees are men or women who’ve faced incarceration, homelessness, education deficits, and other huge barriers to getting and keeping a job.
While they are learning construction and ecologically sound deconstruction skills and important life skills with us, they’re also earning a minimum wage.” Trainees must be at least 18 years of age and be physically fit in order to do the challenging physical work both in- and out-of-doors.
Aina Gutierrez, Executive Director of ERW with more than 15 years of experience in not-for-profit administration, thinks one of ERW’s job training strengths is bringing together community partners “doing what they do best” for the ERW’s workforce trainees.
ERW works closely with many other local organizations in fulfilling its mission of providing education, job-training, and job-development services to Workforce trainees.
The Moran Center for Youth Advocacy can provide legal assistance and case work services for those with age, residency and income eligibility. CPR training, fast access to medical treatment and even anti-stress practices such as meditation are offered by community partners with differing areas of expertise. The McGaw YMCA, the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, Curt’s Café, Erie Family Health Center, Byline Bank and the City of Evanston are some of ERW’s partners working to increase successful outcomes for the Workforce trainees.
“We also partner with some of the building trade unions,” said Ms. Nicklin. The carpenters’, bricklayers’, pipefitters’, and electricians’ unions arrange apprentice workshops tours for our trainees so they get a look at one of the pathways to a career in the trades.”
Part of the Workforce trainee instruction covers vocabulary and functional math that would be needed for those wanting to apprentice with a building trade union. “Learning how to read architectural plans is another skill we teach,” said Ms. Nicklin.
The Workforce training also pays for a 10-hour online OSHA course and supports the trainees as they earn their OSHA cards, which are industry safety certification required by many employers.
Rubbing shoulders with people in the actual construction- and deconstruction-related businesses is a tangible benefit for Workforce trainees, so growing a network with building trades professionals has been a boon.
The Workforce board and staff have developed an employer outreach program utilizing local contractors to run mock job interviews and host “shadow days” for the trainees. The network paid off recently when ERW received the contract with Schermerhorn Realty’s project to deconstruct existing townhouses on west Central Street in Evanston. The Workforce trainees were the crew.
Over the course of a year, ERW provides paid training for up to twelve Workforce trainees. A significant portion of the funds required for the trainee program comes from Warehouse sales of salvaged materials and from building deconstruction contracts.
The deconstruction jobs are usually for North Shore homes, and some of them take as long as five months to execute.
Under the supervision of Tom Frank Reinfranck, Warehouse Workforce Lead Trainer, the trainees have on-the-job honing of skills – and experience working during all kinds of weather conditions.
Trainees’ practice includes selecting and using tools, organizing the work environment, adhering to safe work protocols, increasing physical stamina, improving written and verbal communication and working as a team. They also get their driver’s license, practice interviewing for job placement and get needed support in strengthening math and reading skills – and equally important to being successfully hired and retained, trainees practice helpful ways to manage anger and stress.
Ms. Nicklin says she and her colleagues have not totally completed their work by the time the trainees graduate from the program. “We’re in touch with the trainees for two years after they leave us. We want to know if they’ve found consistent employment in the building trades – or perhaps in other areas. Do they have stable housing? What was their starting wage at their job, and what are they earning now? Do they need a reference or text support? Have they recidivated? Will they stay in touch with us? We send out a monthly e-letter to graduates and really want to keep that contact.”
Tom Reinfranck acknowledged from his more than two and a half years of working closely with the trainees that during their training period, many of them have endured a lot of challenges and disappointments in their lives.
“And as a result, many of them have considerable baggage. Of course we want them to work hard, but we especially want them to believe in themselves,” he says.
“Lots of people don’t realize that there is demand, local demand, for experienced and trained building trades people,” said Ms. Nicklin. “Evanston’s requirement for developers is that they hire at least 5% of their workforce from the community.” She noted that the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse will be accepting new applications at the end of March for trainees meeting ERW’s requirements.