August 28, 2017

Access for All: Celebrating Labor

Access for All students board up a vacant home in Southwest Detroit as part of a weeklong work project.The Labor movement led efforts for safer working conditions and better wages, as well as the 40-hour work week. #TGIF wouldn’t exist without Labor. And Labor has been the backbone of Access for All, a skilled-trades training program that connects Detroiters with construction jobs throughout the region.

United Way and several partners fund and guide the nine-week program. Detroiters who are 18 or older can enroll for free. Upon graduation, students have the skills and knowledge they need to successfully enter an apprenticeship.

This program is a key part of one of the core focus areas of our work — Economic Prosperity. It’s another way our efforts help workers find better jobs and keep more of what they earn. We give them access to opportunities so that they can grow their incomes and better provide for their families.

Impacting the future

“To have an impact on the future of the workforce, that’s what we strive for every single day,” said Lee Graham, Training Director for Operating Engineers Local 324.

Access for All students measure a board and plot where to cut it while boarding up a vacant home as part of a work project in Southwest Detroit.

Access for All features heavy involvement from union representatives in addition to funders. Skilled trades training directors participated in the planning phase prior to the program’s launch in 2012. They helped guide the curriculum and also stressed the importance of safety training. They’ve remained involved every step of the way, developing a rapport with the students in each cohort as well as participating in networking days, hosting field trips and attending graduations. When past graduates encountered issues in the field, they suggested improvements to the program. Because of that feedback, a weeklong project was added to the curriculum. The project gives students the full experience of being on a worksite.

“It’s the most rewarding thing,” Lee said. “We sat down, we pulled it together and they continue to make it better as each cohort goes. It’s been pretty darn successful.”

The program has gained recognition within the industry. Past graduates have entered jobs working on big projects such as Little Caesars Arena.

“Access for All is building momentum,” Lee said. “We hope to spread the good word throughout the whole state about programs that are similar to this, so there isn’t this extra duplication out there and we continue to form one big family as an industry.”

Saving time through Access for All

Rich Flood is Local 80 Apprentice Training Director for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association Metropolitan Detroit Chapter. He said Access for All has saved employers time due to its ability to weed out the people who don’t have what it takes.

“We want to have people coming into our apprenticeship program that, after four or five years, are going to become productive sheet metal workers,” he said.

“When we invest this money in those individuals, we want to make sure that’s going to pay off. The people who come through the Access for All program have an understanding of what to expect. They’ve already been exposed to the different trades and they’re ready to go to work.”

Rich and Lee were among several union representatives who visited the class during a networking event for students and employers. The students’ enthusiasm impressed them.

“Attendance and attitude will take you a long way,” Rich said.

“Some of these students are taking time off work and putting other things aside. They’re not getting paid for this. If they had to come up with some out-of-pocket money to attend a program like this, it would limit a lot of people from attending. It’s a wonderful program. I certainly appreciate United Way being a part of that.”

To read how Access for All helped one student out of homelessness, click here.

Editor’s note

Labor partners involved in Access for All include the Asbestos Workers of Regional Local 207, Boilermakers Local 169, Michigan Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union, Michigan Carpenters and Millwrights, Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association, Michigan Laborers’ Training and Apprenticeship Institute, Drywall Finishers/Tapers, Detroit Electrical Industry Training Center, Elevator Constructors, Glazers and Glassworkers, Heat and Frost Insulators, Ironworkers Local 25, Millwrights Local 1102 JATC, Operating Engineers Local 324 , Painters, Pipefitters, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service, Plasterers, Detroit Plumbers Union Local 98, Southeastern Michigan Roofing Contractors Association, Sheet Metal Workers Local 80, SMART Local 292, Sprinkler Fitters and Tile, Marble and Terrazzo Masons.