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Construction trades program helps underserved members of the community thrive in the workforce

Construction trades program helps underserved members of the community thrive in the workforce

October 14, 2021 at 4:00pm

By Caylin Jimenez

Leodanys Collazo had reached a dead end, personally and professionally. A suggestion from his wife and avid supporter to look into an FIU program changed everything, opening a career path that landed him a lucrative job in construction safety management.

Collazo is a graduate of the Certificate Program on Construction Trades at FIU's Moss Department of Construction Management. Funded by the Lennar Foundation, the free program is designed to provide underserved members of the community with the skills needed to succeed in the construction industry—offering food, transportation and the opportunity to speak to employers.

“Lennar is providing an opportunity to be successful in the construction industry to those who need it most – veterans coming back to civilian life, abused women in difficult situations and those who made a mistake and ended up in the justice system,” says Jose Faria, endowed chair of the Moss Department of Construction Management.

Prior to enrolling in the certificate program, Collazo did 17 years in the justice system; when he got out, he struggled to find a job. The construction trades program gave Collazo a mentor in Victoria Tomas, senior program coordinator for the certificate program; Tomas helped Collazo get a job. He currently works in construction as a safety manager.

“If it wasn’t for the program, I would not know about safety management and OSHA. It opened my mind up to ideas and I also learned how to do things with my hands besides fighting,” he says. 

There are currently two different certificate programs for students to choose from — the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO) Workforce Recovery Training program (6-month FIU Pre-apprenticeship Program) and the FIU Construction Trades 14-week program funded by Lennar.

In the trades program, students learn carpentry, electrical, plumbing, solar photovoltaic installation, heavy equipment operator, construction craft laborer and sprinkler fitting. To complete the program, students participate in classroom instruction and hands-on lab training, which includes building a project house, worksite visits and more.

Participants also earn valuable national industry credentials/certifications that will set them apart in the job market, including an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 30 Training Certificate; National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Blue Card; Forklift certificate; and Susan Hardwood Fall Protection 3-hour certificate. At the end of the program, students participate in a career fair hosted by the program.

The program has had 700 registered students to date and 547 graduates – a completion rate of nearly 80 percent. The first six cohorts had an 80 percent employment rate with an average wage of $18.08 per hour. 

The certificate programs are for folks 18 or older with a work permit. Outreach is conducted in underserved communities door-to-door, through social media, flyers and community partners like Chapman, Camillus House, VIP Reentry, Community Awareness Construction Services, CRA Homestead, South Dade Chamber of Commerce and Lotus House.

"I'm glad that we are able to positively impact the South Florida workforce that is in dire need,” Tomas says.

The construction industry is expected to add more than 300,000 jobs nationwide in the coming decade. There's more work in the construction field than there are people to do it. FIU’s Certificate Program on Construction Trades meets the need. Students who finish the program – and even the ones who have not finished yet – are in high demand. The program allows employers to get well-trained employees who've worked hard to get to where they are.

John Bell Construction often hires participants. 

“Since the beginning of this program, we've seen that our workforce has become more accountable," says Oscar Morejon ’13, president and founder of the company, who stresses the importance of hiring the best people for jobs in a high-demand industry within a high-demand city. "We knew that when we wanted to start a construction company it was because people wanted to hire good people and what better people than the people FIU has trained."

A member of the College of Engineering & Computing’s Dean’s Leadership Council, Morejon also launched an internship program and a $15,000 scholarship fund for first-generation construction management students last year. Scholarships were given to three students. 

The money for the certificate program in the construction trades was created with seed money from the Lennar Foundation and evolved into a pre-apprenticeship program from the Florida Department of Education’s Pathway Grant and now the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Workforce Recovery Training Grant.