‘Bridge to Construction’ apprenticeship program aims to build careers for Chicago residents

Plumbers, electricians and bricklayers are all good union jobs in Chicago, but they're hard to get.

Now, a new program is helping people from disadvantaged communities gain skills that will open the doors at those trade unions while they get paid to learn.

About 30 people looking to get into the construction trade attended a meeting on Monday at Metropolitan Family Services in the South Chicago neighborhood, hoping to find their piece of the American dream.

The men and women from all ages, races and backgrounds are hoping to gain the skills that will allow them to become painters, bricklayers, carpenters and plumbers and join the trade unions that provide good wages for those jobs.

"I would like a career that will be able to help me support my family," said Rebeca Cuevas while holding her 10-month-old daughter.

Emmanuel Chapman recently got out of prison and has struggled to find steady work.

"So I'm here to try to get a certification so I won't be denied so much," said Chapman.

It's called the Bridge to Construction Apprenticeship Program, run under the Auspices of Metropolitan Family Services.

More than 20 of the applicants will be picked to take part in a 10-week training program, teaching them skills that will help them get an apprenticeship in one of Chicago's three dozen trade unions.

"Making sure than black and brown communities are able to get individuals into the construction trades," said Metropolitan Family Services Director Angela Dixon.

The applicants will be paid about $15 an hour to learn during the 10-week program. The wages help open the door to people who otherwise couldn't afford to take part.

"We try to establish or forge relationships within the trade unions," said Merrick Neisch, director of the Bridge to Construction Apprenticeship Program. "Find out what it is that they're looking for in individuals to be successful in that particular trade. And then go about the business to make sure our participants will meet that criteria."

While anyone can apply for the program, they're encouraging people from poor communities who are often shut out of construction projects right in their own neighborhoods.

"People that live in this area need to have access to the employment opportunities that are here," said Dixon. "So it'll be great if they can get the training to prepare them to work on those developments as they arise."

The only requirements to apply include the following:

  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • You must be an Illinois resident.
  • You must have a high school diploma or G.E.D.