Before Samuel R. Jones enrolled in the Greater Dwight Development Corp.’s training program, he was doing odd jobs as a handyman. Now he is a union construction worker certified in operating a “condor crane,” which lifts objects into the sky.
Jones, along with 49 other people, has been the beneficiary of GDDC’s 3-year-old training program for minority workers in the New Haven area. The program’s current session began Tuesday.
The corporation has received a federal grant of $120,000 per year to train in environmental construction minority workers between the ages of 18 and 25, who either have no high school diploma or graduate equivalency degree or have been through the criminal justice system, and give them a chance to find work. The program also focuses on making its participants members of labor unions.
“Roughly 50 percent of our participants have been through the criminal justice system,” Executive Director Paul Ruchinskas said. “Labor unions tend to be a little more receptive to accepting our workers than other vocations might be.”
GDDC designed the program to give workers living in run-down areas of New Haven the chance to learn about and find work remedying environmental destruction. GDDC recognizes that most of the environmental destruction occurs in lower-class neighborhoods.
The participants spend the first four weeks of the 12-week program in the New Haven area with GDDC. Ruchinskas and his staff teach the students math and English skills up to the eighth-grade level. GDDC also brings in special consultants to give the participants training in life skills.
In the fifth week, GDDC sends the workers to a labor training program in Concord, Conn. The workers spend six weeks in Concord receiving training in general construction for environmental remediation. After the environmental construction training, the workers return to New Haven, where Ruchinskas and his staff spend the last two weeks of the program preparing the workers for work in the real world and also giving them more life training.
“It’s a great program,” said Talib Deen-Nasheed, a recent graduate of the program. “It gave me the skills I need to find a good job. I’m now working on the Yale medical center development and making three times what I was making before the program.”
Ruchinskas said one of the most significant aspects of the training series has been the rate at which the participants have not only found work but also joined labor unions.
“One of the best things about our program has been the fact that 98 percent of our participants have gone on to join the labor union,” Ruchinskas said.
Ruchinskas said the rate of labor union participation among his graduates is the highest among the half dozen or so similar programs around the country.
The program enrolled 17 people in its first year and 33 people in its second, although it was only designed for 15 students per session. All 50 of the graduates have secured construction employment in the area.
“How can I put it?” said Jones, the crane operator. “The GDDC program was a spectacular event in my life. It’s something I’ve been waiting for all of my life. I’m now a member of a great labor union, and I’m certified in a lot of different construction operations. I would recommend the GDDC program to anybody in New Haven looking for gainful employment.”