A unique workforce development program creates a pipeline of workers skilled in the construction trades
In the Buffalo Niagara region, with its rich architecture and design heritage, skilled craftsmen in carpentry and woodworking as well as those who have entry-level skills are always in demand to meet the needs of construction-related employers. Outside of on-the-job training, however, there a few places for those interested in construction to build the skills that make them employable.
The Society for the Advancement of the Construction Related Arts (SACRA) is a comprehensive 12-week program in carpentry and woodworking that provides skill-building, work readiness, and job placement services to individuals interested in pursuing a career in construction-related fields. The program creates a needed pipeline of trained professionals in the construction industry while providing job opportunities and career-building to under-resourced individuals who may have been un- or underemployed. The program is free to participants and is supported by the Oishei Foundation.
There is a particular emphasis on recruiting women, people of color, and those who may have backgrounds that make finding employment difficult. So far, 42 students have graduated from the program in five cohorts and nearly 80 percent have found employment in the construction-related trades.
Dennis Maher, founder and executive director of Assembly House 150 which conducts the program, comments, “The goal of the program is really about self-sufficiency and to help our students determine their path in life. The construction field is just one means to do so, and if we find a student decides this is not for them, we still help them connect to something that does.”
Despite the shut down for COVID-19, the Spring 2020 program recently graduated eight participants with the majority having secured jobs prior to finishing the program at places such as Buffalo Tree House, Northwood Historic Restoration Shop, and Millington Lockwood. While the intensive, hands-on training had to be curtailed during the height of the pandemic in March, program leaders worked to stay in touch with the group, provided some curriculum projects to work on at home, and then re-convened the group as soon as it was safe to gather again.
As part of the program, participants learned skills including rough carpentry, basic cabinet building, basic millwork, machine tool repair, drywall installation, and finishing. Leading industry professionals share their expertise teaching classes and demonstrating hands-on skills.
The program is located at Assembly House, the former the Immaculate Conception Church on the corner of Edward and Elmwood in Buffalo. The 10,000-square foot, 1870’s era historic building provides plenty of opportunities to teach new skills to students while upgrading and improving the structure. At Assembly House, participants are surrounded by examples of design and construction excellence and have a chance for real-world, hands-on experience in a variety of trades.
Each cohort works on a community project that provides an opportunity to collaborate and give something back. The recent cohort built a communal dining area that will be used by future participants, while other groups have contributed to projects at Northland Training Center and for PUSH Buffalo. SACRA tries to stay in touch with their graduates and encourages them to come back for a visit, giving them a chance to see new work completed by subsequent students.
While the pandemic has slowed down some of SACRA’s plans, program leaders are looking to the future. According to Maher, there is a demand for their services and they are hoping to offer the skills of future cohorts on a fee-for-service basis. The vision is that students will have an opportunity to work on actual projects while the program can create a revenue stream supporting the program's growth and ability to train additional students.