Program teaches underprivileged youth construction skills

Shortages in the construction workforce are a problem many southern California cities face. A new program hopes to interest underprivileged or troubled young people in construction careers.

The program, Moreno Valley YouthBuild, of Moreno Valley, Calif., started last fall and trains young adults, ages 16 to 24, in construction skills. There are currently five students in the program, but with the help of a $400,000 federal YouthBuild grant recently received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program will soon expand to train 20 individuals over an 18-month period. Moreno Valley was one of 13 communities in California to receive YouthBuild grants.

The Moreno Valley YouthBuild program focuses on training young people from low income families, or youths who have faced some sort of disadvantage, such as living in foster homes, spending time in jail or dropping out of high school.

Students in the program first work on small, simple projects, such as pouring concrete for a backyard patio, installing a sprinkler system and laying sod. After they gain more skills, they work their way up to building new homes. A local contractor provides the vocational training and hires the youths as part-time workers. Additional work is sometimes offered when local homeowners hear about the program and need work done. The students learn about safety and general construction practices through class work provided by the Youth Opportunity Center in Moreno Valley.

According to program personnel, students are becoming passionate about their future careers in construction. Diane Jaquith, a youth development specialist for the program, says contractors have already tried to hire away two of the young men in the program.

For Erick Cervantes, 21, the program has meant a fresh start. He was released from prison last year after serving five years for auto theft. He found out about the program through his parole officer, and can now install insulation, drywall, roofing and electrical systems. He is taking classes at a local community college and hopes to get his real estate and contractor’s licenses.

“This is my one shot,” Cervantes told The Press-Enterprise. “I can’t screw it up. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”