City celebrates expansion of job training program

A group of 14 men and women from Visitacion Valley and surrounding neighborhoods on Tuesday celebrated their graduation from the latest expansion of a city program expected to give them access to skilled union jobs.

For the last eight weeks, the pre-apprentice laborers have learned job readiness and construction skills at the Mario De La Torre Training Academy, located above the Gleneagle golf course in Visitacion Valley. They will complete their training on Friday and be eligible to join Laborers International Union Of North America Local 261, which is made up of just over 5,000 skilled labor workers in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties.

“You become a part of the Local 261 and that’s life changing money in itself,” said Willie Woodson, a member of the graduating class. “You go from not making much in a year to making probably $70-80,000 a year.”

The training they received at Gleneagle is the newest extension of the CityBuild program. The program, which began under former Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2006, focuses on training at-risk youth and people on or leaving probation in the skills required of a laborer like operating machinery, fundamentals of construction and basic math.

Gleneagle previously had a job training program, but linking it to the CityBuild program offers graduates greater opportunities to join unions upon graduation, officials said.

“A lot of the people who come into this program are people who would otherwise be on the streets doing other things,” said Director of the Department of Public Works Mohammed Nuru. “Giving them the skill to earn money legitimately is the point of this program.”

“Today demonstrates the fulfillment of one of the important visions of Mayor Ed Lee to connect violence prevention efforts to job training and employment,” said CityBuild Director Joshua Arce.

Nearly one third of inmates released from San Francisco County end up back in jail within three years or less, according to 2017 statewide data.

“Labor and trade is really friendly to people with criminal histories,” Lauren Bell, director of reentry division of adult probation in San Francisco, said. “It’s an area we rely heavily on for people who are going through the system to be able to get jobs with the full support of The City.”

Edgar Wilson, who went through CityBuild’s programs and now works for The City as a part of Local 261 says the program changed his life path.

“I won’t be another statistic,” Wilson said. “We saved another black man, we helped another family.”

Mayor Mark Farrell affirmed The City’s commitment, set out by Mayor Lee three years ago, to connect the CityBuild program to the Gleneagle job training program.

Despite current low unemployment rates, Farrell insisted The City should not rest on its laurels, “San Francisco should be a city of hope for everyone,” he said.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Laborers’ International Union Of North America Local 261 represents just over 5,000 members in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties. The number was incorrect in an earlier version of the story.

Sadie Gribbon
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Sadie Gribbon

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