21 Feb Goodwill Construction Program: Building Futures
Hammers pound, impact screwdrivers chatter and a circular saw shrieks. Smells of sawdust, paint and glue mingle in the air. A teacher paces around the workshop, shouting instructions and encouragement over the noise.
“Chaos” is how instructor Tim Kahn jokingly describes the scene, which he says reflects a typical day’s activities for students in Goodwill’s Construction Training Program. But the expressions on his students’ faces tell another story — determination, satisfaction and pride.
Behind safety glasses and a dust mask, Lateasha Davis is the very picture of concentration as she operates the circular saw. She is cutting sections of countertop for booths that will be used in Goodwill stores by employees who process donated items for sale. Nearby, other students assemble frames for the booths and attach the newly cut countertops.
“This is really exciting — something new for me to learn,” Davis, a diminutive 29-year-old mother of five, explains during a break. Davis has worked as a housekeeping supervisor for several years, but she was bored doing the same things every day and wants to try her hand in a different field. She also hopes to earn more money.
At a Goodwill Career Solutions-hosted job fair, she learned about the Construction Training Program, which is housed in an industrial complex in West Nashville. Students attend classes five days a week for six weeks, receiving a stipend of $100 per week. Most take advantage of a free shuttle from Goodwill’s headquarters downtown.
Upon completion of the course, which covers safety, construction math, hand and power tools, blueprints, rigging, communication and employability skills, students receive certification from the National Council for Construction, Education and Research.
Davis says being a tomboy, a people person and someone who loves to work with her hands makes construction a perfect fit.
“Plus, I work hard at anything I do. I work harder than these men,” she says with a laugh.
After only two weeks in the course, Davis and her classmates have learned the names and use of most construction tools, how to stay safe on a job site, how to properly measure materials for projects and more. Three hours of each day are spent in the classroom, and three are spent in the workshop. This day began with a visit by a representative from Fifth-Third Bank who spoke to the class about budgeting, the loan process, how to improve their credit scores and more.
Kahn said the financial overview is especially appropriate because as many as eight out of 10 of his students are struggling to find work when they sign up for the construction course. That was the case for Patrick Lewis.
Lewis, a 50-year-old Nashville resident, is physically imposing — a large, muscular man with numerous tattoos — but his eyes convey sadness and anxiety. He has been looking for steady work for more than five years, since he completed a prison sentence for a property crime that occurred in 2005.
“It still haunts me,” he says. “Employers will give me chances, but later on HR (human resources) will come back and say they don’t want me. It’s tough when there’s no money coming in.”
Lewis has worked in several temporary construction positions, and so when he heard about Goodwill’s construction class while attending a Career Solutions job fair in downtown Nashville, he knew he wanted to participate.
“This class is a real blessing for me,” he says. “I made a mistake, and I paid for it. I’m not a bad guy. I just need to build my skills up and hopefully I can find a permanent job.”
Kahn says the outlook for people like Lewis is much improved after taking the construction class. More than 90 percent of graduates, including many with a history of incarceration, find jobs immediately upon completing the course.
And to further ensure success, Goodwill can guide course participants toward many other services, such as criminal record expungement, driver’s license reinstatement and high school diploma equivalency classes.
Kahn says his goal is to not only give his students the skills to secure a job that helps them pay the bills but to set them on the path to a lucrative career.
“I try to instill in them that when they get out of this class, they can design a house, lay the block, build the house — they’re not going to be an expert at any one thing, but they are going to have much more overall knowledge than half the people they compete with,” he says.