s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Special coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.

As survivors of the North Bay fires wrangle with insurance carriers, consult with architects and apply for permits to rebuild homes ravaged by October’s disaster, an effort is underway to train a new generation of construction workers and tradespeople to meet the unprecedented demand.

“This is about radical collaboration,” said Katie Greaves, Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board director and director of employment and training for the Sonoma County Human Services Department.

It’s an effort sorely needed in Sonoma County. The ratio of construction workers to residential units under construction “is at a historic low,” according to the 2018 Construction Industry Insiders report presented by the county Economic Development Board. The county’s construction industry “in a race against time,” the report noted.

Help is on the way from several quarters.

The county’s 6-month-old Office of Recovery and Resiliency is working in support of local training programs to ease the labor shortage and aid the North Bay’s long-term rebuilding efforts. A partnership also exists to provide job training, connect employers with job seekers and ultimately bring skilled workers to job sites across the region as the rebuilding effort progresses.

Several training programs were planned or in place before the October fires destroyed nearly 8,500 structures across Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties, including nearly 5,300 homes in Sonoma County. Enrollment is rising in some classes, resulting in wait lists and expansion plans. Most classes accommodate upward of two to three dozen students.

The effort includes public and private sector programs, targeting young adults, dislocated workers and those without jobs or seeking new careers.

Training includes shorter, accelerated programs to longer-term instruction by building and trades professionals. It can cover everything from construction basics to safety measures, certification in forklift and scissor lift operations, first-aid and CPR training, plus “soft skills” like teamwork and best practices for interviewing and landing jobs or apprenticeships.

Training providers also include labor unions and courses through local colleges, with majors in landscape design, construction and trades specialties. Pre-apprenticeship training programs are also on offer.

Various county departments are working in unison to bolster the effort.

The Workforce Investment Board, in partnership with the Human Services Department Employment and Training Division, received $3.25 million in emergency funds from the state Employment Development Department to help workers impacted by the fires, and is prioritizing existing funding to support those interested in entering the building and trades industry.

Eligible job seekers can pursue training programs while getting support for child care and transportation costs, equipment and uniform fees and other expenses, as well as support with resumes, cover letters and interviewing skills. Applicants can get such help through Sonoma County Job Link, the local employment center.

Larry Richmond Jr., a Windsor-based general building contractor, was involved last year with the inaugural North Bay Construction Corps program for high school seniors and currently works as a Sonoma County Office of Education instructor teaching adult students.

“Our goal is to train students to enter the workforce,” Richmond said. Working with industry partners, students learn “what it would take to make it in their business.”

Qualified workers can land entry-level jobs paying from about $18 to $24 an hour, often with benefits, depending on the specialty and whether the employer is union or nonunion, he said.

Special coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.

Alex Wirtz, 18, received his high school diploma in March from Youth Connections, a program of the Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County. He completed the NextGen Trades Academy for underserved and homeless youth earlier this year and was hired as a roofer by Letitia Hanke, academy founder and owner/CEO of ARS Roofing, Solar and Electric. Wirtz doubled his previous income as a dishwasher at a Santa Rosa restaurant and takes pride in his new work.

“To me, it’s a really cool thing that I’m helping the community as well,” he said.

Hanke, who offers the academy through her nonprofit LIME Foundation and has partnered with youth-based agencies, is enthusiastic about helping employers, young job seekers and the community rebuilding effort.

“Contractors are begging,” she said. “They always talk about how difficult it is to find good people.”

The North Bay Construction Corps works with high school seniors through a partnership with the nonprofit trade group North Coast Builders Exchange, the Sonoma County Office of Education and the Career Technical Education Foundation Sonoma County.

The five-month, after-school training program introduces participants to careers in construction and trades disciplines, with students visiting job sites, gaining hands-on learning and earning college credit.

Keith Woods, executive director with the North Coast Builders Exchange, said he has been “blown away” by the commitment of corps students. The program, he said, “is not a home run, it’s a grand slam. That they want to help rebuild the community is doubly impressive to me.”

Training organizers are hopeful current programs will help make a difference in long-term rebuilding efforts.

“The fact is, before the fires there was a critical shortage in the industry,” said Kathy Goodacre, executive director of the CTE Foundation. “It’s a serious issue.”

The foundation was approved in April for a $1 million grant from the Bay Area’s Tipping Point Community to support expansion of the North Bay Construction Corps. Plans call for the corps’ expansion into neighboring counties.

Such programs help students cultivate career interests and reinforce “that there are multiple pathways to success (besides college),” said Amber Figueroa, the foundation’s director of CTE programs.

It’s not only boys and men entering the programs. Nayeli Garcia, a senior at Ridgway High School in Santa Rosa, is enrolled in North Bay Construction Corps and is considering a career in the building and trades industry.

She hopes to set an example for others, “because people think women can’t do this kind of job,” said Garcia, one of several students profiled on a video about the program.

Stephen Jackson, director of college and career readiness with the Sonoma County Office of Education, points to construction courses like those in place at Petaluma High School and Healdsburg High School, among others. About half of the county’s 15 public high schools have wood shop or construction technology courses, with state funding available for additional programs.

“It’s important for lots of folks to know Career Technology Education is a really strong program,” said Jackson, a CTE Foundation board member. “The job market is growing tremendously for the construction industry. It’s an exciting career for many young people and adults.”

Nancy Miller, director of Regional Adult Education Programs with Santa Rosa Junior College, said the need is universal across all construction trades and experience levels in the North Bay. And vocational training doesn’t necessarily preclude a college education, she said.

“We need managers as well as laborers. It’s kind of all hands on deck,” she said. “It’s also a call to service for our community.”

Show Comment