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Valley work program aiming to help young people find career paths

Construction Worker Framing A Building
Posted at 4:42 AM, Oct 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-22 09:23:25-04

PHOENIX — "No way" did Stephanie Nelson think she would ever work in construction. A year ago, Nelson was living at a youth shelter and working at a local post office.

"It was cool but I wanted change," she told ABC15. "I didn't see any growth with that."

Her counselor at the shelter told her about the Arizona Highway Construction Workforce Program, a pre-apprentice program for eligible young people mixing training with paid, hands-on learning in the construction industry. After giving it some thought, Nelson applied, and is now a laborer with Haydon Building Corp on various projects in the Phoenix area.

"I enjoy the process," she now said. "Every little detail... I'm pretty detail oriented," adding her favorite opportunity so far has been getting the opportunity to operate heavy-equipment machinery.

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The program is a partnership between ARIZONA@WORK, the City of Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, state construction associations and several local construction companies. The 10-week program starts with a week-long industry readiness class and participants are nearly guaranteed a job upon completing the training, which pays $15 per hour.

"We are experiencing a labor shortage across all spectrums of our business," said Katie Haydon Perry, an executive at Haydon.

"It's really cool to be able to take somebody who is maybe lost in their path in life and, really, help guide and provide some opportunity for what [their] future is going to look like," she said.

Mary Alejandro, Phoenix's ARIZONA@WORK community-business liaison, told ABC15 there are more than 70,000 young people between 16 and 24 years old who are not working and not in school -- and those are the people the program wants to target.

"They haven't had the guidance or anyone to, really, talk to them about these potential bright career paths," Alejandro said.

At minimum, industry experts say there are 10,000 unfilled construction jobs in the state and that number is only expected to grow over the coming years.

Alejandro said the program is especially attractive for young people choosing not to attend college or worried about potential student loan debt. According to statistics from the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity, median pay for "Construction and Extraction Occupations" is $20 per hour, or $41,600 per year.

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The program's next group is scheduled to begin in November.

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