Building a town: Teens recruited for construction jobs amid SF development boom

San Francisco is experiencing one of its biggest development waves since The City rebuilt itself after the 1906 earthquake and fire, and industry experts are reaching out to teens interested in construction about potential career-related paths.

Recently, 45 high school students primarily from Bayview-Hunters Point gathered at a first-of-its-kind construction and trades exposition at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard for a glimpse into The City’s largest private development project that will ultimately revitalize the area into residential, retail and park space.

Construction jobs are bouncing back in San Francisco with full force after unemployment hovered around 30 percent in the Great Recession, due in part to the technology boom and more trade workers retiring.

“We have a real need in the building trades to replenish our workforce,” said Mike Theriault, secretary-treasurer at the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, citing an aging labor pool and recent development surge. “We’re going to need folks to step in and take our places … and build this town.”

Theriault was one of about a dozen trade union representatives who encouraged the 14- to 17-year-old students to explore careers as painters, pile drivers, engineers, sheet metal workers, plumbers, pipefitters and ironworkers, among others.

“It is a career. It’s a good-paying job [that offers] immediate gratification,” Chris Fallon, lead painting instructor at Glaziers Training, said of entering work as a painter, dry wall finisher, glazier or floor cover craftsman.

“When you walk out of that building at the end of the day, you’re able to look over your shoulder and say with pride, ‘I did that,’” Fallon said.

Raynesha Mims, 16, is only a sophomore at Balboa High School, but she said she already has a goal of building a company from the ground up — literally.

“I want to be able to manage and build my own building,” said Mims, who has taken a particular interest in seismic safety. “I find that really interesting in how to make safer structures, so people … don’t have to worry about earthquakes and floods.”

Mims’ enthusiasm is precisely why Lennar Urban, the development firm leading the shipyard effort, and Young Community Developers, which provides training and support opportunities for Bayview-Hunters Point residents, teamed up to offer the workshop to students, Lennar Urban spokeswoman LaShon Walker said.

Students spoke with experts in the industry about various construction-related career paths, and were taken on tours of the shipyard construction site for a firsthand look at what the jobs entail. “Many of the youth, while they may live in the community, they don’t even know that this is happening,” Walker said of the shipyard project.

“The much larger vision is about exposing them to the trades in a way that’s approachable,” she added. “Back in the old days, we used to have shop classes. Schools don’t have those kinds of programs any more.”

The ultimate goal is for students “to see actually what the new homes are going to look like and have conversations about how all this started, and how development [looks when it’s] finished and complete,” said Shamann Walton, executive director of Young Community Developers.

For workers, the end result is satisfaction, said Fallon, the painting instructor.

“I’ve spoken with many of the bridge painters who are just as proud as punch when they say, ‘I worked on a bridge’ or, ‘I got that particular project done,’” Fallon said.

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