Sunday, June 16, 2024

In Cambridge, we’ve done an excellent job preparing our children for college, but for young people to whom college does not appeal, what options are we giving them? While an average of 92 percent of seniors who graduate from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School attend a two- or four-year college, university or technical school, it is still important that we follow up with not only the 8 percent who do not choose to go to school, but also those who graduate from their respective schools and return home to Cambridge without job prospects.

At CRLS, students have the opportunity to participate in trade programs as class credit through the Rindge School of Technical Arts. They can learn mechanics, carpentry and other hands-on skills that can guarantee a prosperous career in the trades, but unfortunately we are not providing a clear enough path for our students to matriculate into these careers. Although the program is an excellent introduction to trades, it is not a comprehensive curriculum like that of other technical art schools such as Minuteman, where the coursework covers the full breadth of trade programs and connects students to the proper channels to begin careers.

Recently, I ran into a RSTA carpentry graduate who, when asked about his plans, told me that he would like to enter the trades but wasn’t aware that a carpenter’s union was located right here in Cambridge on Holworthy Street. If RSTA is going to be a bridge program for students, it needs to make sure students know where and how to take the first step into their trade. It is time we admit that our technical arts program is not robust enough – which is why the School Committee has called for a review of its programs underway this fall. The review will help us shape any new programs, or provide alternative pathways for students who want to pursue a high school trade education.

Update from the author on Dec. 2, 2021: After writing recently about the need for more pathways to the building and construction trades, it came to my attention that I presented an incomplete and factually incorrect anecdote.

The student in question attended the Rindge School of Technical Arts’ exploratory program, not the carpentry program. As students in the exploratory program spend just one semester in RSTA, they do not have access to the excellent workforce and placement programs that have been set up for RSTA students who graduate from one of our Chapter 74 programs. When speaking with the young man in question, I did not clarify before including the example in my essay. I want to thank the families and former students who provided me with the correct information and the opportunity to set the record straight. I sincerely apologize for any confusion that my mistake has caused to the staff at RSTA, especially the career adviser and carpentry teaching staff. I look forward to continuing to learn about our technical arts programs in the coming months and working together to continue to work to provide pathways into the Building and Construction Trades.

Development in Cambridge is ever present, and growing. Construction sites across the city bring in countless jobs, but we are not doing enough to make sure these jobs stay in our community. To make sure we create a clear path to these jobs, we must first develop the talent these trades require. Training and connection programs are critical, but we must do more to ensure our residents have access to those jobs right here. Decades ago, Boston created a local jobs requirement to ensure 51 percent of private job sites have valuable hours for residents; in Cambridge, no such requirement exists.

To develop the talent, it’s critical to have Cambridge-based training programs such as Building Pathways: a six-week pre-apprenticeship program that provides hands-on training and education about the trades, then assists with apprenticeships upon completion. After determining the need for a more local program, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and councillors Marc McGovern, E. Denise Simmons and I worked to develop a Cambridge-based Building Pathways class for Cambridge in 2019, proving how imperative it is that we keep this program in Cambridge for 2022 and beyond so we can continue to serve residents who don’t see traveling to Dorchester for classes as a viable option.

To offer a long-term solution for this problem I’ve been working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Job Connector staff, Metro BTC and other stakeholders to create a five-week pre-program in Cambridge called Introduction to the Building and Construction Trades that would connect participants with local business managers for the trades, teach soft skills, math skills and assist with applications to direct apprenticeship programs and access to trade mentors. A pre-apprenticeship program such as Building Pathways or Introduction to the Building and Construction Trades offers a space for those who want to explore construction and trades as a career but are unsure what specialty to focus on. The program would also serve as a recruiting mechanism for the Building Pathways class in February and has been designed to be a paid pre-program that feeds into Building Pathways. Participants in our Intro program will earn $25 an hour, giving them the opportunity to earn a living wage while learning. Through these programs, participants have the flexibility and opportunity to learn from mentors who can offer firsthand experiential advice, as they have already gone through the nuances of an apprenticeship program.

In addition to working to create the Intro program, we must also explore an ordinance requiring construction job sites in Cambridge to give at least 50 percent of the hours to Cambridge residents in the trades, with specific requirements for women and residents of color similar to the one that exists in Boston. For the past few months I’ve collaborated with area experts and stakeholders to figure out what is needed to bring this ordinance to Cambridge. We know that those looking to enter a trade apprenticeship need hard skills related to the specific trade, but more importantly they need mentorship to guide them through the ins and outs of an apprenticeship program. We also know that a change such as this doesn’t happen overnight – it’s going to take a few years to cycle Cambridge residents into construction bid jobs until we reach our goal of 50 percent.

Trades provide lucrative career opportunities as well the stability and protection that union jobs confer. College may not be the right step for everyone, but a stable career doing something they love is certainly an attainable goal for all. With our own pre-apprenticeship programs in Cambridge, paired with a local jobs requirement, we’ll be able to recruit and develop talent in our own city, then funnel that same talent right back into the economy.

  • To apply to the Introduction to Construction and Building Trades program, fill out the application before Nov. 5. Class size is limited to 12. Classes will be held at the MIT Job Connector, 792 Main St., The Port, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with dinner provided at 5:30 p.m.

Feature image from the Province of British Columbia via Flickr.