YouthBuild Program Teaches Skills and Fosters Pride

The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee’s (HACM’s) YouthBuild program provides young adults the skills to find employment in the busy local construction industry, while also giving them the opportunity to rehab homes that can be put into the affordable rental market for low-income families.

“This is a great new start to my life and career,” said YouthBuilder Harvey Young. “I like to draw, and construction ties my art together with building things. I want to start my own business someday because of this program.”

YouthBuild is a U.S. Department of Labor-funded non-residential, community-based alternative education program that provides job training and educational opportunities for at-risk youth ages 16-24. In Milwaukee, the program is sub-contracted to agencies, including HACM, through Employ Milwaukee.

Participants learn construction skills while rehabilitating affordable housing for low-income or homeless families in their own neighborhoods. They split their time between the construction site and the classroom, where they work towards earning their GED or high school diploma and prepare for additional educational and post-secondary training opportunities.

Nannette Ray, HACM’s YouthBuild Life Coach, says the program extends beyond teaching construction skills. “Whatever kind of work they end up doing, we want them to have the skills to do it well and to become self-sufficient through employment.”

"Soft" skills training includes learning to be on time, attending work consistently, and taking direction from a supervisor.  The program also strives to teach the youth to set and achieve goals.

“We want them to become confident in their ability to make good decisions for their long-term well-being,” said Ray.

If the YouthBuilders decided to move forward into a construction career, including possible work on upcoming HACM construction projects, they'll have a leg-up on the competition.

“They earn multiple industry-recognized certifications that will help them to quality for a job on nearly any construction site,” said Albert Jack, the HACM YouthBuild crew leader. “They essentially end the program as pre-apprentices.”

Virginia Ashford said she enjoyed learning to build a garage, lay flooring, properly paint a wall, and use power tools safely.  “I never expected to go into this kind of work, but I like it because it’s hands-on.  I want to become a carpenter.”

Many participants express pride in knowing that their work will provide a home for a family in need.

“We want to make sure everything’s nice and neat when the new family moves in,” said Anton Chappell with a smile.

HACM’s YouthBuild program recently completed its first two cohorts of training and is currently recruiting for a third. Contact Nannette Ray at (414) 286-5137 or nrray@hacm.org for more information.