Construction cohort

Alesha Norman, 24, of Sonora, uses a Skilsaw to cut a piece of wood for a framing exercise Tuesday afternoon.

An annual pre-apprenticeship construction training program gave Sonora resident Dakota Hanson the jump start he needed to change his life after years of struggling with homelessness.

Shortly after completing the seven-week course in 2019, Hanson got a job with Sierra Mountain Construction Inc. in Sonora that allowed him to move into his own place for the first time in his adult life. The 25-year-old currently works for Benton Machinery Inc. and has since upgraded to a bigger apartment and bought a new vehicle.

“They were able to successfully give me what I would feel confident going to a construction company and asking for a job,” he said. 

The cohort program also provided Hanson with certifications that he says he still uses on a daily basis, including first aid, CPR, confined space and forklift training.

Hanson said the program is a “sure-shot way to make a decent amount of money in a short amount of time” and recommended it to anyone who’s interested in pursuing a career in the construction industry.

Mark Carpenter, instructor of the program, said they are actively seeking people to apply for up to 10 spaces that will be available when the program starts again next year.

“We’ve had some students who have had a hard time in life and get back on track,” Carpenter said. “It’s amazing to see someone who is down and destitute and, two years later, making $80,000 a year. That’s what we strive for.”

The program is a multi-agency effort involving the San Joaquin County Office of Education and the Tuolumne Community Collaborative, which includes the county Superintendent of Schools Office, Habitat for Humanity, and Mother Lode Job Training.

Funding for the program largely comes through grants from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which benefits by finding workers for its Hetch Hetchy system that conveys water from Tuolumne County to the taps of residents in the city and county of San Francisco. 

Carpenter said there are billions of dollars in upcoming projects on the Hetch Hetchy system that they are looking for to place graduates of the program. 

There’s also a number of contractors and unions in a variety of construction that Carpenter works with to place graduates of the program, some of whom have worked on local projects that include the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility and the new nearly $70 million courthouse that’s currently being built.

“You can do a job program, but at the end if you’re not tied to union or employment, there’s nowhere for them to go,” he said. “From the beginning, we tell them the ultimate goal is for them to get hired and that their job search starts today.”

The program’s inaugural class was in 2017 and has since been approved for more funding to continue.

Carpenter said many direct-entry placements from the program have an average starting wage of about $23 an hour. He also said the success rate is about 70, better than the 40 percent of most apprenticeships.

Class sizes are typically about 15 to 17 people, but have been reduced to 10 this year due to COVID-19. Carpenter said they may add a class in the fall if there’s enough interest. 

The classes are held at the Greater Valley Conservation Corps building on Camage Avenue in East Sonora.

Applications are due by Feb. 5 and can be picked up at 14993 Camage Avenue. People must be 18 or older and have a high school diploma or GED, as well as a valid driver’s license by March 1. 

Women are encouraged to apply and typically make up about 20 percent of the class.

The course runs from March 8 to April 23. For more information about applying, call (209) 401-1966, or contact Carpenter directly at gcarpenter716@hotmail.com or (559) 760-3949.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 768-5175.

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