ACE Students Receive Valuable Exposure to Construction Opportunities and Careers
By Montrie Rucker Adams, Visibility Marketing
A recent Fortune Magazine article centered on a surge in construction employment. The article mentioned an interesting and accelerating trend: Job openings in the construction industry are rising. This is good and bad news. The good of course, are the jobs. The bad, is 87 percent of firms, “Report having a hard time filling key professional and craft worker positions,” according to Fortune.
ACE has the answer…however, not an immediate one.
The Architecture, Construction, Engineering Mentor Program of America, Inc. (ACE) is a not-for-profit organization formed in 2002, with New York City’s founding program beginning in the mid ‘90s. ACE partners high school students with mentors and teachers in the construction industry. The program is designed to introduce the students to the construction industry and the many job opportunities available to them.
Tom Laird has been involved since the early years.
“I relocated to Cleveland from Washington, DC where I was active with ACE. Cleveland did not have an ACE affiliate then, so I rounded up folks and helped establish a program in 2005,” said Laird, executive vice president at Gilbane Construction. Now in its tenth year, ACE has since grown to include a full board, of which Laird is the board chair.
“The Cleveland program grew from one class at John Hay to over 150 students this year. We have seen impressive growth,” said Laird.
In addition to the teachable moments, the Cleveland affiliate engaged itself in a broader challenge. Going beyond the traditional introduction to architecture, engineering and design, the Cleveland program also provides scholarships, mentoring, co-ops and internships. The desire is to stop the “brain drain” from Cleveland by offering employment opportunities once college is completed.
“There is an attendance issue within CMSD,” said Orlando Taylor one of the dedicated ACE mentors and an engineer at Turner Construction. “It is increasingly harder to get the students to stay after school for extracurricular activities. However, they show up to ACE every other week throughout the school year. There is even an ACE Family Day event that is held on a Saturday that 80+ students along with their parents attend,” he says.
“We try to feed the students that are hungry (for knowledge) and make them aware of the opportunities. I didn’t know I could do what I do now when I was their age,” said Taylor. “We have architects, engineers and construction managers who take the students on a journey through what we do. The kids come back every session,” he said.
The first scholarship recipients are completing their college degrees and ACE wants to profile and report on the students’ success. ACE has over 80 businesses in Northeast Ohio participating in and supporting the program. Their strong board leadership includes Eric Gordon, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s CEO. “This year we handed out nearly $115,000 in scholarships at our Annual Dinner,” shares Laird. “It was our largest year. We gave financial assistance to 21 recipients. Some received one-time grants and others, four-year commitments. We have partnerships with The University of Akron, Kent State, Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College which matched the ACE scholarships,” Laird said. Nearly 70 ACE scholarship receipients will be enrolled in college this Fall.
One of the generous ACE donors is Andrew “Andy” Natale, Partner and Chair of Construction Law Group at Frantz Ward LLP. Andy contributed $5000 of his personal money to the ACE Mentor program. “My view is pretty simple,” said Natale when asked why he felt the need to give. “We all have a purpose. All of us that have found some level of success and had the ability to develop. . . it all started with someone believing in us, taking the time to invest in us and providing us with an opportunity. So, from my perspective, I’m in a position where I have the ability to help. I recognize that there are other people that don’t have the same level of opportunity. They need to have somebody to care.”
“When you look at it like that and you recognize that,” he continues, “You have the ability to potentially make a difference, as small as it may be. A program like ACE Mentoring provides an opportunity to introduce people to something they haven’t seen before and get involved with different people and groups that they may have never had the opportunity to interact with. It ultimately provides the opportunity to assist and facilitate somebody in their personal growth. You gotta give back,” Natale stresses.
According to Laird, there are only three requirements to participate in ACE: Sign up. Participate. Bring a lot of energy. The students begin the program as sophomores with hands-on learning. Each student group has a team of mentors that represent six different businesses. The team can include a technical engineer, architect and a general contractor. The mentors, along with the students, help shape the hands-on, interactive curriculum which can include field trips to view a construction project in progress.
Awareness. Careers. Exposure. This is what Taylor likes to say ACE acronym stands for. He says the program is an opportunity for Cleveland students to have what other schools have. Many of the private and high-achieving public schools are college preparatory schools. Their students are aware of the opportunities that are available to them. Many Cleveland students are not.
Taylor is a product of Cleveland schools, graduating from the Cleveland School of the Arts. At Turner, he is purchasing agent/engineer at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown Hotel project. His responsibilities change depending on the project. Turner Construction is the lead firm at James F. Rhodes where he is the lead mentor. Taylor has an Associate’s degree in civil engineering technology and a bachelor’s degree in construction management, both from the University of Cincinnati. He also holds an MBA from Cleveland State University. He has mentored in the program at James Ford Rhodes for four years. When he sees the enthusiasm and the light bulbs going off in the students’ heads, he knows that the time he invests throughout the school year is worth it.
As job opportunities in construction continue to rise, the ACE program will have students eager to fill the spaces. This summer several ACE students are participating in paid internships with Stark Corporation, Snavely Group, AKA Team, Panzica Construction, First Interstate, and other companies.
“As an attorney, you learn by others taking the time to train you on how to do things,” adds Natale. “It’s that classic concept of the master and the artisan…taking the time to train, to teach. It’s a time commitment, but it’s also an investment in somebody else’s worth.”
You can learn more about becoming an ACE mentor by attending a breakfast for new mentors on August 25: