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.
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.