28 Jan Goodwill Construction Training Program Provides Foundation For Careers
LaQuante Thomas says his temporary position cleaning beer kegs stunk. Literally. But getting laid off and job-hunting without success for a month was even worse.
“We were depending on my girlfriend’s income, not having enough gas to get to work, having to ask people to help us out,” he explains. “It was kind of crazy.”
While at the Tennessee Career Center in Murfreesboro seeking information about job opportunities and unemployment benefits, LaQuante, known as “Q” to his friends, saw a flier for Goodwill’s Construction and Weatherization Training Program. He had always enjoyed working with his hands, so he decided to apply.
By the time he got word he was accepted into the program in February of 2018, the Smyrna resident was working another temporary job at a furniture store. He asked to be moved to second shift so he could participate in the course.
The Construction and Weatherization Training Program is housed in a warehouse beside Goodwill’s Outlet on Cockrill Bend Boulevard in West Nashville. Students attend classes five days a week for five weeks, receiving a stipend of $100 per week and free work boots and a toolbelt through a grant from the Community Foundation. Many also take advantage of a free shuttle from Goodwill’s Lifsey Career Solutions Center 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 Center for Construction, Education and Research (NCCER).
Three hours of each day are spent in the classroom, and three are spent in the workshop. Students learn the names and uses of most construction tools, how to stay safe on a job site, how to properly measure materials for projects and more. A representative of Fifth-Third Bank also speaks to the class about budgeting, the loan process and how to improve their credit scores.
The financial overview is helpful, because as many as eight out of 10 students are struggling to find work and support themselves or their families when they sign up. Many face challenges such as a history of incarceration, a language barrier or a skills gap.
Students also benefit from the wisdom and experience of instructor Tim Kahn, a longtime general contractor.
“I believe people only change their lives when they decide it’s time. What I do is offer my students alternatives. I teach a message of hope — a pathway of hard work and an uphill climb,” Kahn says. “Most importantly, today is a new start. Yesterday means nothing unless you let it hinder you.”
After graduating from the program, students also receive job placement assistance from Goodwill. Of the 86 students who completed the program in 2019, 77% found a job upon graduation. In LaQuante’s case, productive connection with an employer occurred even sooner.
Mick Bentley, Craftforce Manager for Messer Construction Co., spoke to LaQuante’s class about opportunities in the local construction industry. LaQuante says he was “sold” when Bentley described the benefits offered by Messer, which has hired several Goodwill Construction Training Program graduates.
“My girl, who is now my fiancee, was pregnant at the time. So that’s all I was thinking about was taking care of my family,” LaQuante recalls.
The following day, LaQuante sent Bentley an application. After an interview two weeks later, he was hired as a laborer apprentice.
“It felt really good,” LaQuante says. “I hugged my girlfriend for a really long time, because it was like, ‘Now I will always have a job.’ There’s so much construction going on, there’s always going to be work.”
LaQuante will graduate from Messer’s Labor Apprenticeship Program in June. He will then continue his education the company’s Carpentry Apprenticeship Program.
LaQuante says his life has improved in multiple ways. Not only can he pay his bills, he can purchase things for his two young children that once were out of reach. He and his fiancee hope to buy a home soon.
“I’m able to just financially take care of my family,” he explains. “I know my attitude back then was just, you know, living day-to-day. Now I’m just having fun. I smile more. I’m able to enjoy life now.”