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New City Colleges program helps place students in carpentry union jobs

A new agreement between City Colleges of Chicago and Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council offers students an opportunity to earn their certificate in construction management in just 16 weeks.

Students at Kennedy-King College’s Dawson  Technical Institute practice laying down tile as part of their final project for a new construction management program.
Students at Kennedy-King College’s Dawson Technical Institute practice laying down tile as part of their final project for a new construction management program.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

On the third floor of Kennedy-King College’s Dawson Technical Institute, four miniature houses are under construction.

For 16 weeks, Kennedy-King students like 29-year-old Dave Power have been working in an accelerated course leading to this final project before graduation Friday with a certificate in construction management.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but I feel like we’ve really learned a lot,” said Power.

Power is part of City Colleges of Chicago’s Articulation of Prior Learning Transfer Agreement with the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council and Training Fund.

The agreement allows journeymen carpenters to earn an associate’s degree in construction management at any of the City Colleges of Chicago. Students who earn their basic certificate in carpentry — like Power will this week — can receive advanced placement in the union’s pre-apprenticeship program without pursuing the associate’s degree.

In announcing the program at Kennedy-King on Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called it “empowering.”

“This day is about celebrating a partnership that is going to make sure that we are doing things across our city to transform the lives of our young men and women and to show them a path forward to give them opportunities and to show them that we care about them because we are investing in them and their families,” said Lightfoot.

Students attend classes focused on math and a contextualized learning of theory. Then, they complete “labs,” like building the mini homes.

The program also allows for students with approved prior experience to earn credit for their work.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot congratulates students in the Construction Carpentry program during a press conference announcing an agreement between City Colleges of Chicago and Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot congratulates students in the Construction Carpentry program during a press conference announcing an agreement between City Colleges of Chicago and Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Juan Salgado, chancellor of CCC, announced the certification program is also part of the city’s Future Ready initiative, a program offering high-demand, short-term programs at no cost to qualifying Chicagoans.

“There isn’t a financial barrier to entering into these programs,” he said, adding that registration for the spring is now open. “We’re here to open up that door of opportunity.”

The certificate program offers four basic certificates and two advanced with 20 credits a 16-week semester, paving the way for post-graduation jobs with the carpenters union.

For Powers, a union job is the ultimate goal. Before attending the program, he had been in and out of office jobs. But they didn’t give him the sense of security he wanted.

“I realized I really wanted something that was gonna take care of me,” he said. “My whole life I heard union jobs are good jobs. I was looking for a new start and I really feel like I did find it here. The breadth of skills that we’ve gotten here and the more I’ve learned about the trade unions in Chicago, the more I realized, they’re gonna pay me well. It’s a protected job. When you’re part of the union, you’re protecting each other.”

The construction management degree requires 65 credit hours. CCC can award up to 30 credit hours toward an Associate of Applied Sciences in Construction Management to participants who successfully complete the coursework.

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.