Constructing a New Career

Academy students are taught how use various construction tools and equipment.

Aug. 28--Lifting back-breaking concrete tiles and installing doors and their frames are some of Sharlene Lawrence's daily chores.

But the former stay-at-home mom would not have it any other way. Since May, Lawrence has earned $10 an hour as a construction intern at The Lenox, a 77-unit market-rate condominium building under construction at 129th St. and Lenox Ave. in Harlem.

"I've been trying to get involved in construction for years," said Lawrence, 34, whose grandfather was a carpenter.

Marriage and three children put Lawrence's goal on hold until the Harlem resident saw a flyer about the Construction Trades Academy located on Frederick Douglass Blvd.

The year-old program helps low-income Harlem and Bronx residents who live within the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone become entry-level workers in New York City's booming construction industry.

The 12-week program, sponsored by Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Inc. (HCCI) knocks down barriers unskilled laborers face getting jobs at local construction sites, said Gregory Watson, HCCI's chief operating officer.

Lawrence is one of 27 academy students who will graduate this month. The non-profit organization is currently recruiting students -- high school graduates or those with a general equivalency diploma (GED) for the September class.

The effort is an example of recent private and public sector drives under way to boost construction employment citywide.

The STRIVE Construction Skills program in East Harlem recently trained 54 students, some of whom are public housing residents, to hold apprentice jobs, said Aziz Dehkan, executive vice president of fund development at STRIVE New York.

There are 7,000 unionized apprentice jobs in the city and more than 2,000 nonunion entry level positions, said Paul Fernandes, chief of staff for the Building and Construction Trades Council. Union apprentices, he said, enroll union-sponsored training programs that pay $15 an hour.

Academy students are taught how to read architect drawings, take accurate measurements, use various construction tools and equipment as well as tile floors and walls, said Cyril Cassell, the program's head instructor.

Participants receive a $60 weekly stipend. The academy received a financial boost this month from a $325,950 grant from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corp., said Lucille McEwen, HCCI president and CEO.

Sha-Veeda Davis, a mom with two kids, has worked at the Lenox Ave. construction site since last year. The Construction Trades Academy graduate currently earns $14 an hour.

HCCI's McEwen wants to expand the academy's scope to include training on asbestos and hazardous materials, bricklaying and welding.

For more information about the Construction Trades Academy, call (212) 491-3315.

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