CEA to launch construction training

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The Community Empowerment Association will launch a 12-week pre-apprenticeship training program, beginning in September.  Registration for those interested in the Ma’at Construction Group program began at the Brother to Brother Breakfast Aug. 29.

“We feel one of the ways to help young men stay out of trouble is to keep them busy,” said CEA founder Rashad Byrdsong. “Why we feel this is the time to do this is because of the multi-million dollars of construction that’s going into the area.”

The program will focus on preparing workers for the influx of green jobs coming to the area from federal stimulus money and an overall push by the federal government to make buildings more energy efficient.

Participants who complete the program will receive national certification from the Association of Builders and Constructors. Community College of Allegheny County has already committed to let CEA use their facilities and Byrdsong hopes to acquire the Black Contractors Association building for additional facilities.

The Pittsburgh Partnership dedicated $130,000 to help fund the program for 25 trainees, aged 15 to 35 and it is anticipated that more funding will come from stimulus funds designated for training. At this point many of the program’s instructors are volunteering their time.

“A lot of the money is not coming through as fast as we want it to,” said Brian Williams, supervisor of intensive and training services, Pittsburgh Partnership. “My job is to keep the money flowing and hopefully the city will continue to be a part of this.”

In light of the recent end of the pilot program, which was not completed by all the participants, instructor Johnnie Comer emphasized that completion of this program does not guarantee a job.

“If you’re into building something then we need you. We’re not promising anybody anything. We are in the process of bidding work,” Comer said. “This is opening the doors for African-American males.”

On top of training in basic skills such as math, the trainees will also receive help with obtaining their driver’s license, overcoming substance abuse and negotiating through child support issues. All of this will help to overcome the typical barriers that have kept Blacks from entering the construction trade unions.

“Over $40 million of work is coming into East Liberty and we’re still not working. We’ve had this discussion over and over again,” Comer said. “This is not us against anybody. This is us standing up as African-American men to do what we have to do.”

Gene Boyer, who worked for several years in the construction business, said it is important not to focus on who is being excluded. Instead, he said they should be working on developing the necessary skills to make sure they can’t be excluded.

“They’ve already spent a billion over the past 10 years in construction in this city,” Boyer said. “This is a competitive business. It’s a brutal business. In a tough economy like it is right now, everyone is focused on helping their own.”

Ed Gainey, coordinator of economic development for the mayor’s office, said this construction group will only be successful if people are dedicated to making it successful.  He said nobody is going to give the company work unless they go out and fight for it.

“Sometimes our community tends to drop off when they don’t see an immediate product,” Gainey said. “If there’s going to be some work, we need to be at the table. If you’re not going to back it, it’s not going to work.”

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