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Grant-funded program targets barriers in education

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A pre-apprenticeship program for individuals with barriers to education could amass more workers for construction companies in Berks and Lancaster counties.

Associated Builders & Contractor’s Keystone chapter, a construction trade association in Rapho Township, has received a $67,182 PASmart Pre-Apprenticeship Grant to apply its classes for area students to people in need of an entry-level position in construction.

Since 1998 the chapter, known as ABC Keystone, has worked with local schools and technology centers to provide pre-apprenticeship classes for students in eight partnering schools. The classes can be used to seek apprenticeships in fields such as plumbing, construction, craft laboring and carpentry.

The grant, provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, allows for the chapter to provide similar education for free to 20 people returning from prison, unemployed or under 24 and without attachments to the workforce.

ABC Keystone is working with the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board and Berks Connections/Pretrial Services to promote and find applicants for the free classes under the name of the Lancaster-Berks Construction Pre-Apprenticeship Connection.

The partnership will help the connection target its desired applicants in both counties through outreach programs and open houses.

The pre-apprenticeship training offers six months of classes in safety, hand- and power-tool operation and communication that are essential for entry-level positions in construction, according to Stephanie Larkin, vice president of education, safety and workforce development for ABC Keystone.

The people chosen for the free classes can choose to pursue further education in the apprenticeships or find work as an entry level laborer.

“All industries need to do a better job to focus on the people who we hadn’t focused enough on previously,” Larkin said. “We are at a low unemployment rate and yet there are jobs that still require solid employees.”

Many of the people in the populations targeted in the grant have hurdles like poverty, criminal records and lack of transportation to overcome, according to Larkin, who said that the free education will give its students a place to start from.

“When we are working with kindergarten through 12 grade students they may take this as an exploratory course,” Larkin said. “The folks that we are focusing on in the grant, the reentry population coming from Berks County pretrial services, has a lot more at stake and a lot more motivation to continue (in the field).”

Along with the classes, ABC Keystone plans to use the grant to hire five new instructors for its school programs and increase its outreach and education to schools interested in partnering for the pre-apprenticeship program.

ABC Keystone expects to finalize its application process by next month and hopes to make the project self-sustaining to continue to bring new employees to the association’s 550 construction-related members.

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Ioannis Pashakis

Ioannis Pashakis

Ioannis Pashakis covers health care and Lancaster County. Email him at ipashakis@cpbj.com.

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