The city of Chicago is taking steps to diversify the ranks of the building trades and Chicago Local 134 has joined the fold. Through an effort with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Building Trades, Dunbar High School will be home to a comprehensive, citywide construction trades program.

Chicago Local 134 is partnering with Chicago Public Schools and the mayor’s office to offer electrical training at a new construction trades program, aimed to diversify the building trades. Pictured: Business Manager Don Finn, left, and a student at the press conference announcing the program.

“A job in the trades is good job and we want everyone to have that opportunity,” said Local 134 Business Manager Donald B. Finn. “Our doors are open to everybody.”

The program is expected to begin in the 2016-2017 school year and will serve up to 120 students. Students in their junior and senior years will learn skills in fields including general construction; carpentry; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning; welding; and electricity. Upon graduation, students can then enter a pre-apprenticeship program as well as post-secondary education or a certification program.

While open to all city residents, preference will be given to applicants from the surrounding area. The Dunbar campus is located in the predominantly African-American Bronzeville neighborhood, with a student body that is 97 percent black, says the Chicago Sun Times.

The construction trades program is part of a larger effort by the city to offer more opportunities to underserved communities, many of which have issues with violence and unemployment the local ABC station reported.

“The biggest piece of confronting violence is providing people opportunity and hope and having the trades in the schools will allow you to do that,” Emanuel said at a press conference announcing the program. 

Dunbar currently offers career and technical training and used to offer construction trades classes during World War II, reported the Chicago Sun-Times

Local 134 participates in a similar program with Simeon High School, also located in Chicago, and has a member on the teaching staff. Finn says that someone from the local will likely teach at Dunbar as well. Additionally, the local’s’ new union hall will be across the street.

“That was just a happy coincidence,” Finn said of the hall’s location.

Finn also noted the aging of the construction workforce and the need to train the next generation.

“We’re doing everything we can to get the younger generation involved,” Finn said. “Programs like this give everyone a shot. It’s beneficial all around.”