A pre-apprenticeship program being launched this spring will offer free training throughout the region to people considering careers in the building trades, officials announced Thursday.
The Building Futures Initiative is a three-week program that prepares participants for the expectations of jobs including carpentry, plumbing and bricklaying.
The program is open to those unemployed, underemployed and seeking a career change. Organizers are especially eager to recruit women and racial minorities to diversify the building trades workforce.
The first class, which begins April 10, will be offered at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast. The school is partnering with the Northeast Indiana Building & Construction Trades Council and Northeast Indiana Works, which jointly created the program.
At least three blocks of local classes will be offered before the program expands to seven surrounding counties, said Rick Farrant, Northeast Indiana Works spokesman. During that time, officials will work to build similar partnerships in those counties, including finding locations for training and financial sponsors, he said.
Local students’ costs will be covered by a $17,000 grant from the city of Fort Wayne. Other organizations supporting the effort are JPMorgan Chase Foundation, $100,000; Skill UP Indiana! grant, $390,000; Northeast Indiana Works, $150,000; and Questa Educational Foundation, up to $10,000.
The initiative expands on the BUILD program, which was offered for two years only in Fort Wayne and targeted black youth.
The Fort Wayne Urban League was the epicenter of that effort, which graduated 52 people.
Leroy Jackson, the BUILD program’s director, believes a big factor in its success was the relationships Urban League leaders have built in the minority community surrounding the organization’s headquarters. Jackson wants the new program to succeed but believes it might be harder to recruit people in surrounding counties.
Darryl Esterline, president of the trades council, is confident that union members living in surrounding counties can help spread the word about the benefits of building trades’ apprenticeship programs. The Building Futures Initiative helps candidates decide which of the trades would be the best fit for them to enter.
"You come out of the programs with a degree and no student debt," Esterline said. "And you earn while you learn."
Over the next decade, more than 5,000 building trades jobs will come open because of industry growth and retirements, according to statistics from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
Mayor Tom Henry told about two dozen officials and media members assembled Thursday morning at Ivy Tech that Fort Wayne’s growth depends on having enough skilled workers to construct projects including the riverfront development, The Landing renovation and the new downtown events center.
"Somebody has to put them in the ground," he said. "Somebody has to step up and build those."