Yale is helping more than 40 New Haven construction workers develop new skill sets and find jobs.

Every year since 2003, Yale has teamed up with New Haven’s Commission on Equal Opportunities, local trade unions and local developers on the Construction Workforce Initiative, a city-run program that helps minorities, women and ex-cons living in New Haven find work in construction.

“The benefit is that more people get to work — opportunities are created for residents,” said Benedict Cozzi, head of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478 and of the Building Trades Council of New Haven and Vicinity, which recruits graduates of the construction initiative.

Ninety-five percent of the initiative’s January 2010 graduating class had criminal records and hailed from more than 10 countries, said Nichole Jefferson, executive director of the City of New Haven’s Commission on Equal Opportunity, which founded the initiative.

The construction initiative began in 2003 when Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s plan to build or renovate all New Haven Public Schools was underway, Cozzi said. At the same time, he said, many of the city’s unionized construction workers were moving out of the city at an increasing rate.

“It was causing problems all over the place,” Cozzi said. “It was hard for the building trades unions to bring anyone in when non-affiliated workers were winning the contracts.”

To address the exodus of workers, New Haven implemented “project labor agreements,” Cozzi said. When a developer such as Yale or the New Haven Public Schools System awards contracts to the lowest bidder to work on a site, contractors are forced to sign the agreements, which force contractors to hire members of trade unions when they need more workers. The construction initiative trains many of the workers who the trade unions recruit.

The construction initiative’s training program is the only one of its kind in the northeast, Jefferson said.

After the a two-month long application process, about 275 people are accepted into the program, Jefferson said. At the end of the 10 to 12 week program, about 20 students graduate, she said.

She attributed the attrition to the difficulty of working in construction during the winter and summer between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

“We’re not social service, we don’t do anything social service-like,” Jefferson said. “We give them life skills.”

Jefferson said graduates of the training program make a minimum of $15 per hour, a salary that increases every half year to a year depending on the amount of schooling a worker has received and how many hours of work they have completed.

After five years, a member of the electricians’ union earns about $30 hour.