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Springs Rescue Mission residents prepare for construction careers

Building a future

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William Wolfe, left, and Michael Toy gained hands-on construction training.
  • William Wolfe, left, and Michael Toy gained hands-on construction training.

When he started the New Life Program at Springs Rescue Mission just under a year ago, William Wolfe felt physically and mentally broken.

“The way I looked at life was totally different,” Wolfe says.

Now, nearing the end of the 12-month residential recovery program, Wolfe has not only overcome addiction, but has become a competitive job candidate — thanks to construction skills training sponsored by the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs, in partnership with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Widefield School District 3 and Springs Rescue Mission.

That 10-week Careers in Construction: Back to Work training taught Wolfe and two of his peers valuable industry skills while they completed their recovery program. By the time they graduated at a May 2 ceremony attended by Mayor John Suthers, the three men had also earned pre-apprenticeship and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certifications — both of which help make them ideal candidates, says Renee Zentz, CEO of the Housing & Building Association (HBA).

“One of the major issues facing our industry is workforce,” Zentz says. While the number of people employed in construction trades is finally back to pre-recession levels — about 175,000 in Colorado — that’s not enough to meet economic demand.

“We estimated that we’re going to need 195,000 jobs by 2023,” Zentz explains, “...[but] a lot of those people are aging out. So we’re going to need [to fill] about 30,000 jobs in the state of Colorado just to maintain what we’re building now.”

For the past two years, the HBA’s Careers in Construction curriculum has been used to educate high school students who take classes at the MiLL, a 46,000-square-foot repurposed potato chip factory near the Colorado Springs Airport.

The new Back to Work program brings the curriculum to “underserved individuals in our community that need a leg up,” Zentz says. The second cohort, which consists of around a dozen individuals from SRM’s New Life Program, Catholic Charities of Southern Colorado’s Hanifen Employment Center and Lutheran Family Services, begins classes May 28.

“A lot of the guys have been encouraged by what we went through,” says Michael Toy, a New Life Program resident who completed the construction training with Wolfe.

Both Wolfe and Toy will finish the recovery program in mid-June, and can start work as soon as they have housing.

“When they finish the program, the goal is to have them walk right into the job,” Zentz says. “We’ve already started interviewing for them.”

Cliff Hunter, manager of work readiness at the New Life Program, oversees job training programs — which also include culinary arts and hospitality training for men who work with the nonprofit’s catering service.

“If we prepare them spiritually and emotionally, but we don’t prepare them professionally, that’s an incomplete program,” Hunter explains.

“Why is work important to you?” Hunter asks Wolfe and Toy inside a workshop at Springs Rescue Mission, where they practiced construction skills.

“It gives me motivation to get up in the morning,” Wolfe says. “...It gives me a capability of continuing to take care of myself and those I love.”

“It’s putting your hands to the plow and not looking back on what happened in the past,” Toy adds. “It’s looking towards the future.”

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