FORT BRAGG, 11/13/23 — Jared Dunham was a well known athlete at Willits High School when he got involved with the North Bay Construction Corps. The program gives local students a new kind of “shop class” experience: they get a tool belt, a set of tools and a chance to work for a local company in the construction and building trades. The opportunity went well for Dunham.
On Wednesday, a smiling Dunham stood next to State Sen. Mike McGuire, explaining how he got his start at Mendocino Forest Products through the program. McGuire was there to tell local civic leaders, also gathered on the stage, that another $1 million in state money was coming to Mendocino County.
The new allocation will allow the program to expand from inland Mendocino County to the coast in 2025. The North Bay Construction Corps is a North Coast Builders Exchange eight-week construction skills building and career exploration program for high school seniors interested in a career in construction, created to help with a worker shortage in the building trades. The Builders Exchange will be contacting schools and potential employers on the coast. Last year the program graduated 20 high school seniors in inland Mendocino County. Organizers said some of the students got jobs through the program while others went on to college, with plans to pursue degrees such as engineering enriched by the construction experience.
The North Coast Builders Exchange is an association that many construction related firms belong to, in and around Santa Rosa. The non-profit offers group health insurance and workers compensation insurance as well as a variety of other services. The North Bay Construction Corps is an unrelated entity. It offers after school educational programs for high school seniors in the area. The Corps began in 2017 in Sonoma County and moved to inland Mendocino County from 2018 to 2020, when it was put on pause by the Covid-19 pandemic. After a two-year hiatus, North Bay Construction Corps returned to inland Mendocino County in the 2022-2023 school year.
The Exchange used the Corps to begin the connection with local students and schools. Classes are taught by high school teachers, skilled industry tradespeople and business owners in topics ranging from tool handling and personal safety to fundamentals of electrical, carpentry, solar power design and installation, drywall, concrete, framing, sheet metal, and more.
Dunham’s field of heavy equipment is one of the highest paying and most difficult and also one with big local shortages. State Parks, forestry companies and development companies are among those who need, and often can’t find, these workers.
Nicollette Weinzveg, director of workforce development and education for North Coast Builders Exchange, said the 2023 NBCC program sessions were held in Ukiah and served students from Ukiah, Willits, Redwood Valley, Potter Valley, Boonville, Redwood Valley, and Lakeport. “In 2024, we plan to serve 20 students and hold each program session in Ukiah again, Weinzveg explained in an email interview with The Voice. “In 2025, we plan to expand the program by establishing an additional cohort on the coast. We will work closely with Mendocino Office of Education to reach the schools on the coast to conduct student outreach and locate a site to hold our program sessions – likely in Mendocino or Fort Bragg.”
The $1 million from the state will be spent over a five-year period and will be used to expand and enhance the North Bay Construction Corps, as well as develop new workforce development programs such as “Middle School Trades Day.” “We will also be looking at ways to support new contractors as they begin their businesses. Our goal is to support workforce development in Mendocino County so that our students and young people have the tools and resources they need to secure meaningful and gainful employment and a family sustaining career,” said Weinzveg. She noted the state money is a help, but the program is needed and the Builders are committed to it for the longer term.
Middle School Trades Day is an event created by the The Construction Industry Education Foundation that partners with local educators around the state to present a chance for boys and girls to see and touch heavy equipment and get hands-on exposure to tools and other aspects of construction trades.
“North Coast Builders Exchange is committed to the sustainability of the North Bay Construction Corps program beyond the five-year grant period and will continue to raise funds for this program into the future. We believe that the support from the State of California will help us leverage funding and support from the community to ensure this program thrives in Mendocino County for years to come,” Weinzveg said.
Since the pilot program in 2017, North Bay Construction Corps has graduated more than 200 students in Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Napa counties.
Vocational programs were once run widely by the schools themselves. The new approach is funding non profits to fill in for the cutbacks since 2000 in vocational education. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has been an advocate of technical information, issuing an executive order on Aug. 31 that directed state agencies to realign their requirements to accommodate more trade educations. Among many other changes, the order will remove requirements for four year degrees from many jobs and create easier educational routes into needed service jobs.
It’s a good time for new workers. Construction work and other jobs in the trades like electrician, plumber and specialists in fields like framing and sheetrock have been suffering labor shortages, especially since 2021, a time period with low unemployment and demand for more workers in nearly all fields. This has coincided with a large number of retirements from the building trades, according to published reports in several construction trade magazines.