Building houses offers students construction skills, experience
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Once confined to jail, Jaime Marquez counts himself lucky that he is now enrolled in the Northern California Construction & Training preapprenticeship program in Sacramento.

Last year at this time, Jaime Marquez was in jail. Now he is enrolled in his fourth month at the Northern California Construction & Training (NCCT) program, learning carpentry skills while building houses for low-income residents in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood. 

“It was a real blessed opportunity for me to get in the program,” says Marquez. “I was trying to find a job. I had originally got out of jail and it was real hard for me to find a job anywhere else. Everywhere I went I was picking up applications. Not one person called me back.

“One of the main things I like about this program is that it gives someone like me, coming from my shady background, a chance to become a productive member of society.”

Marquez is learning in-classroom and on-the-job skills and gaining experience thanks in part to funding from the state Employment Training Panel (ETP), a 30-year-old program funded by employer payroll contributions. The contributions help finance training of new workers and retraining of skilled workers to support an improved economic climate in California and stave off job loss because of technological improvements or domestic and global competition.

Over 24 months, the ETP will provide NCCT and recruits like Marquez $107,000 which NCCT will exceed with a $120,000 in-kind contribution. With that money and funds from other sources, the 20 NCCT journeyperson carpenters and assorted volunteers recruit students, offer classroom and on-the-job training, provide eyeglasses, starter tools, steel-toed boots, and help solve transportation and child care problems that could turn into obstacles. Students earn a stipend of approximately $280 every three weeks.

At the end of his six-month stint with NCCT, Marquez intends to enroll in a carpentry apprenticeship. His experience with the training program, which recruited him when he was disadvantaged, will give Marquez an advantage as an apprenticeship candidate.

Labor of love

It’s a labor of love for Bill Meehan, who co-founded the program that now operates in Sacramento, West Sacramento and the San Joaquin County 10 years ago with Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency’s John Malloy. Meehan, NCCT president and volunteer, but formerly a glazier, president of the Sacramento Building and Construction Trades Council and executive general vice president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, says the major lesson students reap from the training program is a good work ethic. What he’s learned is that no matter how much baggage a recruit carries –- whether it’s a speeding ticket, homelessness or lack of an automobile –- he and his staff usually overcome it. In Stockton, for example, Meehan and his crew found some agencies that furnish used government vehicles for recruits without cars. In Sacramento, he is working with a retired judge and the district attorney’s office to resolve a speeding ticket that went unpaid and has compounded in cost to $2,000. Just recently, Hewlett-Packard contributed 10 computers and two printers.

“It was a godsend,” Meehan says. “It’s hard to make ends meet. When you get out and show people what we’re trying to do and what we’ve accomplished, they show a lot of generosity.”

“This program doesn’t just give students skills, says Kay Sommerfield, an ETP analyst who monitors the progress of ETP-funded programs. “When you build something yourself, it builds accomplishment, confidence and self-esteem.”

Marquez is confident. “If the program were to shut down, the experience I have, I doubt whether I would have a problem getting a job anywhere else,” he says. “We learn stuff that any old person walking down the street wouldn’t have any idea what to do. What you don’t get your hands on, you learn about in the school.”

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Phylishia Parra is better at measurements and not as scared of heights after four months in the Northern California Construction & Training program in Sacramento.


Count an operating engineer, carpenter, laborer

NCCT -- which claims close working relationships with apprenticeship training programs and employer associations -- boasts they place more than 80 percent of their graduates in apprenticeship programs. 
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Martin Johnson and Jacare Scott are building houses for low-income families in Sacramento's Oak Park as part of a preapprenticeship training that combines on-the-job experience with classroom training. Already, Scott was accepted in a laborers apprenticeship training program in San Ramon.

Martin Johnson is hoping he’s one of that number. A recent graduate from Elk Grove High School, Johnson wants eventually to work as an operating engineer on heavy equipment. Then there’s Phylishia Parra, a mother of four boys and one girl ranging in age from three to 13 years old. Her husband, a carpenter, recommended the program to her. She says now she’s better at measurements and heights, although heights are still a bit scary. She intends to join an apprenticeship program in carpentry when she finishes NCCT. 

“I’m glad they’re giving women a chance,” she says. “That’s a good thing that more women are getting involved in this industry.” 

And Jacare Scott, a 23-year-old who already was accepted into a four-year apprenticeship program at the Northern California Laborers Training Center in San Ramon. Scott, who will earn approximately $11 per hour when he starts his apprenticeship and receive benefits after four months, credits NCCT with providing him the necessary skills to begin an apprenticeship training program even before finishing the six-month NCCT program.

“I recommend this program to a lot of people in my neighborhood,” he says. “I ask people if they want to get off the streets and are willing to work because this is a good opportunity. This is an opportunity to work, earn good money and benefits.”

For more information on Northern California Construction Training, Inc. call 916.387.1564.

More information on careers in the building trades is available at

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