Mayor London Breed has picked Ken Nim to become the fifth director of CityBuild, a celebrated construction job training program helping some of San Francisco’s most disadvantaged residents.
Nim, 39, has worked in various positions at CityBuild, which is overseen by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, since its inception 14 years ago. For the past year, he has served as its acting director.
Mayor London Breed plans to officially announce Thursday her appointment of Nim as director of CityBuild. Like Breed, Nim grew up in public housing.
He is from a family of Vietnamese-Chinese refugee immigrants who came to San Francisco in 1986, first living in the Tenderloin and later in public housing in North Beach. Ken’s appointment makes him the first Asian American Pacific Islander director to lead CityBuild.
“As someone who grew up in this City and has deep roots in the community, Ken understands that a path to employment is not just about a paycheck. It’s about an opportunity to lift up our residents so no one gets left behind,” Breed said. “CityBuild creates good union jobs that help address employment inequality, prevent violence in our neighborhoods, and build much needed housing for our City. I’m confident that under Ken’s leadership, this program will continue to thrive for years to come.”
The program was a creation of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2005. On average, the pre-apprenticeship construction program graduates about 100 persons annually who go to work on public and private construction projects as apprenticeships through building trade unions. Since it began, the program has had about 1,200 graduates.
Nim said he interviewed with Breed about the position, when she asked him questions about why he thinks he’s qualified for the post.
“I think we connected because of the similar background we came from,” Nim said, adding that both their families relied on public services. He recalled lining up for meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas at Glide Memorial Church.
“I truly believe in her mission on leaving no one behind,” Nim said.
Despite The City’s overall low unemployment rate there are communities where the rate is higher.
“From the Bayview to Western Addition to the OMI, we still have community residents that are struggling,” Nim said. “I truly believe that CityBuild and the construction sector, a good union paying job, can really sustain a family.”
Apprentice level construction workers coming out of the 18-week training program can earn about $24 an hour, but advancing to journey-level boosts pay to $52. Plumber and electricians can earn about $80 an hour.
Nim manages about 20 employees. His salary is expected to be about $150,000.
Jacqueline Flin, executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute San Francisco, has worked with Nim for the past eight years on workforce services and said he was a good choice.
She described Nim as someone who can relate to people who grow up poor and that he is “good at developing relationships” to build trust.
“He’s willing to go to the people,” she said. “He learns the names of the clients.”