Training for the Trades, an NCI initiative

While working on an affordable multifamily development in Huntsville, Neighborhood Concepts, Inc. (NCI) was struck by the marked increase in construction pricing when cost estimates increased 34% in less than 18 months.  A booming local economy, material costs and tariffs all played a role in the price increases, as did the construction labor shortage.  In 2018, 80% of general contractors reported difficulty hiring qualified workers particularly in the hourly craft positions, according to a recent survey released by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America.  58% of general contractors listed a lack of skilled workers as their top safety concern, per the Q3 2019 U.S. Chamber Commercial Construction Index. 

As a non-profit affordable housing developer focused on providing opportunities for economic advancement for underserved people, NCI saw an opportunity to implement a program that could help fill the trade gap while also providing an opportunity for advancement for residents at one of NCI’s properties.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 183,528 Alabama renters are Extremely Low Income earning 30% or less of Area Median Income - $19,050 for a family of four.  Yet, the average median wage for a construction worker in 2017 was $34,530, per U.S. News.  Could a construction training program help elevate the incomes of NCI residents while producing skilled workers for the local construction trades?

With a generous grant from Wells Fargo, NCI offered a pilot craft training program at Spring Branch Apartments, an NCI affordable community where 46% of residents receive Section 8 rental assistance and the average resident household income is 17,478. 

Working with the North Alabama Craft Training Foundation and the Alabama Association of Builders & Contractors’ North Alabama chapter, NCI offered the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Core curriculum program at Spring Branch Apartments.  Eight Spring Branch residents and 3 residents of Public Housing initially signed up for the 8-week, 72 hour training that included classes covering basic construction safety, material handling and construction math as well as an introduction to construction tools, construction drawings and basic rigging.  The curriculum also included basic communication and employability skills. 

Four of the participants ultimately passed all the required assessments and received their NCCER Core certification, which is a pre-requisite for further trade specific NCCER training. 

Sean Lee of Lee Builders who chairs the North Alabama Craft Training Foundation was so impressed with Craft Training graduate Davon Brown that he offered him a job during the graduation ceremony.  Prior to completing the training and accepting the position with Lee Builders, Brown was earning less than $20,000 per year. 

Craft Training graduate Takia Gray has her GED but has struggled to find employment that will provide adequate support for her three children.  The introductory training program sparked an interest in the electrical field and a dream of receiving her electrical certification.  The Alabama Association of Builders & Contractors is working with Gray to find an entry level position with an electrical contractor which can lead to an apprenticeship as well as financial support to pursue her electrical certification. 

“Until a person is stably housed, they can’t begin to work on whatever challenges they might be facing.  Through our affordable housing development and programs such as the Craft Training Pilot, NCI is able to provide opportunities for both, so our residents can thrive,” said NCI Executive Director, Mary Ellen Judah.  Based upon the initial success of the Pilot Program, NCI is pursuing opportunities to offer the program on a continuing basis.