When Adrian Fontenot (they/them/theirs) first heard about the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), they had no idea that a three-month pre-apprenticeship program would solidify their career for years to come. From a young age, Adrian dreamed of becoming an architect, but was nervous about the extensive math classes they knew they’d have to complete in college. “I was a nontraditional college student; I went to community college for four years and then transferred to Portland State University,” Adrian said. “I was doing research on black folks’ relationship to land, and I thought it was important for me to include how it interacts with housing, because that’s something that calls to me: the history of redlining, disenfranchisement and lack of access to healthy foods for the black community. I figured building and construction was the path to go down.”
Construction can provide great opportunities for recent high school graduates to make comfortable wages without a college degree, but breaking into the field can pose a challenge. “Historically, construction has been an industry you get into because your father, uncle or grandfather does it,” said Torre Sathrum, an instructor in POIC’s construction pre-apprenticeship program. It’s predominantly male and predominantly white.” For Adrian, it was important to find a program that was welcoming for all. “I didn’t feel comfortable going in [the construction] direction because I identify as trans-masculine,” Adrian said. “The apprenticeships I was looking at didn’t seem like they’d offer an affirming space for me. I looked at POIC’s programming, and the construction pre-apprenticeship program was exactly what I was looking for.”
POIC brings skilled trade education to young adults who are at-risk, face barriers to higher education or are members of underrepresented groups. POIC + RAHS (Rosemary Anderson High School) connects students who might thrive in a trade career, but need a little boost to get started. Once a student graduates from a program, POIC helps them find a traditional apprenticeship, connect them with contractors and get them ready for interviews so they can start working in the field as soon as possible. The construction pre-apprenticeship program is just one facet of the operation — U.S. Bank partners with POIC + RAHS to help keep that program going, along with countless others that provide training, mentorship and safety to underrepresented individuals in the Portland Area.
“A lot of the students from our pre-apprenticeship construction program are coming from RAHS — young people who are looking to get started in a specific career,” Torre said. “Since we started 3 years ago, we’ve had close to 100 students come through and graduate from the program.” During the three-month series of classes, students like Adrian will develop the work ethic it takes to succeed in construction, learn skills that will help them when they start an apprenticeship, and explore job opportunities they might not have discovered without programming at POIC. Thanks to the pre-apprenticeship program, Adrian was able to combine their passion for social justice with building to create something special: tiny homes.
“I’m a fan of spaces that are practical and take up as much space as they need, but aren’t excessive,” Adrian said. “I grew up in LA. A lot of the homes there are bigger than they need to be. Tiny houses are more accessible; the first ones were built on trailers because you didn’t need permits, so you could build in a way that gives people more access to housing.” Some of the projects POIC students work on are tiny homes built for women experiencing homelessness.
After graduating from the construction pre-apprenticeship program Adrian was able to bring their passion for building accessible housing into their career almost immediately. “Before POIC, I applied for a warehouse job at the ReBuilding Center, a Portland organization that helps make affordable building materials and train people in skilled trades,” they said. “I didn’t get it because of a lack of qualification and experience.” However, once Adrian had graduated from POIC’s program, they received a call to interview for another position at the ReBuilding Center. “Now, I'm a part time instructor at the ReBuilding center, and I have been trying to become a part of that community since I moved to Portland. Now I work there, and it was because of my experience as a POIC pre-apprentice.”
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