The Construction Worker Initiative 2, Inc. — a six-month program that trains unemployed or underemployed New Haven County residents for construction careers — graduated its first and only all-female class on Oct. 23.
Since its first cycle in 1999, the CWI2 has annually trained between 200 and 300 males and females combined. However, this year, a national non-profit donor, Wider Opportunities for Women, requested that CWI2 consider running the program solely for women and for a shorter period of time — three months instead of the usual six. This stipulation from WOW only applies to 2014, and next year the program will return to accepting both men and women.
Nichole Jefferson, the head of the Commission on Equal Opportunities and the director of the program, said that the edition this year was important for the community because many of the participants are the single heads of their households with no stable source of income.
“It allows women a lot of economic stability.” Jefferson said. “Truthfully, many of the women find us through homeless agencies. Some of them are in very abusive domestic situations.”
Before joining the program, Jefferson added, most women worked odd-jobs — Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonalds and other low paying positions.
According to Jefferson, all of the participants lived at or below the poverty level, and most supported families on their own. Only three graduates of the program were married, while almost all of them raised children at home. This year, 87 students graduated, a relatively low number compared to usual CWI2 classes, considering that only females were accepted.
Chris Cozzi, the chairman of the CWI2 Board, said he believes the program teaches not only construction, but also life skills. Successful participants showed up at 6:30 a.m. every weekday and trained until 2:00 p.m. They also were required to regularly pass drug tests and participated in employability training, life coaching and math tutoring sessions.
“It’s a huge career change, as well as exposure,” Cozzi said. “A big piece of what the program does is give them skills to help them succeed in the industry as well as match them up for industries in which they might have the right aptitude to be successful.”
Graduates are currently in the process of interviewing for positions with Connecticut building trade unions, which have first choice on how many and which graduates to hire. If successfully hired, participants enter the trade union as first year apprentices and work on construction sites that employ union members — such as the University’s new residential colleges and Sterling Chemistry Laboratory. Cozzi said Yale has signed contracts with local trade unions committing to employ at least 20 percent New Haven residents, 25 percent minorities and 6.9 percent women on those two major projects.
The CWI2 has taken advantage of a growing number of construction projects in New Haven in the last decade. According to Ward 5 Alder and Board of Alders President Jorge Perez, New Haven Public Schools, for instance, have renovated 36 facilities in the past decade, and plans are in the works for a new high school. The CWI 2 is one of many working training initiatives, in addition to New Haven Works — a program that recruits for jobs at Yale and seeks to alleviate unemployment by training workers in active industries.
“We wanted to connect New Haven residents with those who are looking for jobs to those industries that are hiring,” Perez said about CWI2.
Not all graduates of the program stay in construction work. According to Jefferson, approximately 4,500 workers have successfully completed the program while only around 2,000 graduates are currently employed by the trade union. Jefferson said that reasons vary, but sometimes graduates decide they are not fit for a construciton career or cite industry prejudice against women.
Yale is set to begin construction on the new residential colleges in February 2015.