There's a lot of talk about helping those who are less fortunate break the cycle of poverty, but the Rochester Multi-Craft Apprenticeship Preparation Program is actually getting it done.
M.A.P.P. works with the Rochester building trades to provide its students with exposure to all the different trades.
"M.A.P.P. is the beginning of generational wealth," said Executive Director Kereem Berry, who's also a member of Rochester, N.Y., Local 86. "It's the only organization I know of in this area that's offering a true career at the end."
M.A.P.P. works with the Rochester Building and Construction Trades Labor Council to provide pre-apprenticeship programs to historically marginalized communities in the Rochester area. Participants receive training and certification in First Aid and CPR as well as the standard 10-hour safety training from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and 80 hours of construction-related math. They also get hands-on experience, from using power tools to climbing ladders. Those who complete the program and meet the minimum requirements are given direct entry into their program of interest.
"One of the things M.A.P.P. does well is it gives the participants exposure to all the trades. That way, the students can pick which is the best fit for them," said Local 86 Business Manager Michael Bader. "And that exposure, and the training that M.A.P.P. provides, helps those students secure jobs that provide a living wage and can end the cycle of go-nowhere, minimum-wage jobs."
At one time, the city of Rochester, located on Lake Ontario and roughly equidistant between Buffalo and Syracuse, was home to major corporations including Bausch & Lomb, Kodak and Xerox. Those companies provided good-paying jobs, but they've all left. Now, the jobs come from call centers, temp agencies and nonunion construction jobs, Berry said.
"That 'Big Three' economy has long since left us," Berry said. "Consequently, the inner city of Rochester has seen a plunge in residents' opportunities to earn a living wage, making poverty the overwhelming norm."
Enter M.A.P.P. At a time when the average age of a construction worker is inching closer to retirement and unions are looking for new pools of talent, Berry and his team are there, training the next generation. And as unions like the IBEW take concrete steps toward being more diverse and inclusive, M.A.P.P.'s work with people of color becomes even more important.
Berry notes that M.A.P.P. doesn't just teach hard skills like math and how to safely handle a power tool. They train the whole person. Alongside ladders and blueprints, students are learning soft skills like discipline and professionalism, taking a page from the IBEW's Code of Excellence.
"Simply put, it's about maintaining your sense of professionalism at all times. We have rules that go from attendance, to appearance, to hygiene," Berry said.
M.A.P.P. also has Project Phoenix, its sister program that provides an on-the-job component that mimics a typical construction day, beginning at 7 a.m. and going until 3:30 p.m. Students go five days a week, from June until the end of the year, Berry said.
"It instills a sense of discipline that they may not have had prior to enrolling with us," Berry said. "As we all know, construction isn't for everyone, so Project Phoenix doubles as a filter to see who is actually cut from the duck cloth of a union construction worker."
And, like a union apprentice, the students earn while they learn. M.A.P.P. provides a stipend of $12 an hour.
Berry is also working with Local 86 to offer M.A.P.P. participants affordable access to the Electric Prep online training course which helps them prepare for their assessment test.
"It's a pretty easy lift for us, and Electric Prep is a great program," Bader said. "Anything we can do to help M.A.P.P."
What makes M.A.P.P. really stand out, though, is how it takes the curriculum one step further. Its leaders also teach self-love, a beneficial concept for everyone, but one particularly important for a group that's been denied opportunity and discriminated against. It's especially important for young people entering an industry where many of their coworkers won't look like them.
"The truth of the matter is that there's still a lot of racial tension on job sites," Berry said. "You'll hear off-hand remarks, see racist statements written in the port-a-potty, be assigned the least desirable tasks. All these things are realities on construction sites across the trades, and unless you have a base value of who you are, you may very well come to believe, and even accept, that you are less than. Not graduates of M.A.P.P.
"We show them you are beautiful just the way you are. And when a person feels that type of self-worth, there isn't much anyone can say or do to throw them off course."
M.A.P.P.'s success is even being modeled by the Workforce Development Institute, the New York state AFL-CIO's nonprofit arm, to launch a similar program in the capital area around Albany. Berry is serving as a consultant. WDI has noted that M.A.P.P. is the only pre-apprentice program it has seen that combines pre-employment training, labor history and placement into a union apprenticeship with a strong community development component.
"It's that community development piece that reinforces how union labor floats all boats, and that we're interested in improving the lives of others," Berry said.