Construction Program Moving the Needle in Hispanic Community

By Rhonda Crowder

For years, it has been difficult for minority communities to matriculate into the building trade unions. And, for members of the Hispanic community with language barriers, it could be even more complicated. But, current efforts are underway to change that dynamic.

In response to the opportunity the MetroHealth Transformation Project will provide Cleveland and Cuyahoga County residents, members of the Hispanic Contractors Association in collaboration with Spanish American Committee formed the Latino Construction Program.

“I believe the credit should go to Metrohealth, Dr. Akram Boutros and the Turner Construction Team for realizing the importance of engaging the community via a workforce program and subcontractor goals targeting Hispanic businesses,” said Adrian Maldonado, member of Hispanic Contractors Association and owner of Maldonado and Associates.

He went on to say it's also important to acknowledge the cooperation of the Union Trades and Executive Director Dave Wondolowski. “From the beginning, they opened their doors to us, explained the union membership process and encouraged the various trades to work with our community. They have been true partners.”

The Latino Construction Program includes a class that meets two days per week for six weeks and focuses on cultural competencies, ESL, the difference between looking for a job here than in Latin America, the advantages of the union membership and safety. The first cohort completed the program earlier this year and the second cohort is currently in progress.

“The first class was very successful. We placed 85 percent of participants from the class in construction,” said Kenny Torres, Spanish American Committee Families First Program Manager. Others are waiting on specific jobs, he continued.

“Since we’ve started, we’ve placed over 30 individuals in union. We’re tracking length and pay. Placements have generated well over a quarter of a million dollars in our community,” he said.                                                                              

Torres said they’ve placed a lot of carpenters electricians, pipefitters, and heavy machine operators. They are also working with CEA to help, in part, with the development of this semester’s curriculum.

“This is a great opportunity for our clients looking for something that pay well and is fast-tracked,” said Torres. He also said lots of clients already have some construction experience.

Victor Matia, 39, completed the program. He is currently working as an electrician with Lake Erie Electric.

Married, with five children, Matia moved to the Cleveland area from Ashtabula early this year. He’s tried all kinds of jobs including landscaping. “I saw an opportunity and jumped on it,” he said.  

The program helped him better understand the construction industry, the importance of safety, and the different trades. “I wanted to do electrician work from the beginning,” Matia said.

“I think it’s a very rich opportunity for anybody who takes advantages of it,” he continued. “There’s a future in this. The people who run it know what they are doing. They are helping people get better jobs and helping the community.”

“There’s no limit for me,” Matia added. “I want to climb as high as I can, show people I can do it. There’s opportunity. It takes time and effort but there’s opportunity. It’s paying off. I love it.”

Matia thanks everyone associated with the program especially Torres, who, he said, became like a big brother to him. “I admire him. I will always be grateful.”

Giovanni Torres, 32, was working in a warehouse when he heard about the program. Wanting to be a carpenter, like Matia, he too “jumped on it.”  He completed the first class as well.

“It’s a good career for your life, if you’re a hard worker,” said Giovanni, who has a daughter. “This is what I’m doing for my future, to set myself up for my fifties and sixties.”

The biggest thing he took away from the Latino Construction Program is the importance of safety. Giovanni is currently waiting for a letter to confirm acceptance into an apprentice program. “I think other people should give it a try.” He advises to be patient.  

In the second week, during the second full day instruction for the second cohort, Instructor Robin Guerrero taught OSHA rules and regulations. The class listened to a lively lecture on types of job hazardous including safety, chemical, biological, health due to noise and repetitive movement. She also covered personal protection equipment and explained that, during the class, participants will obtain 30 hours of OSHA training as well as a hard hat, vest and boots upon completion.

“I think it’s phenomenal now we have a way into the union, that was not always possible,” said Guerrero.    

Maldonado said, as a Hispanic Business owner, he feels honored to be a part of this once in a lifetime project. “We will be able to grow and expand moving forward. But I'm equally excited about what it means for our community with job creation and economic spending for our Hispanic businesses.”

For more info on the program, contact Kenny Torres or Ramonita Vargas at Spanish American Committee 216.961.2100.