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Grant helps build construction careers to feed growing demand

Kaiser Permanente helps establish scholarship fund for Sacramento students to encourage livable wage jobs in commercial and homebuilding trades. Pictured, Cosumnes River College Construction Lab Technician Carlos Carrasco, left, and student Spencer Kwong install drywall in a tiny home project on campus.

Something about David Rocco’s job started to wear on him. He should be doing something more fulfilling than driving a fuel delivery truck, something with the potential for better pay, he thought.

That introspection motivated the 48-year-old to enroll in a 6-month carpentry construction certificate program at Cosumnes River College, and he now sees a new career in home building on the horizon. A $500 scholarship, paid for by a $250,000 Kaiser Permanente grant, is helping him purchase the tools he’ll need to get started. Once he completes the program, he can apply for a second $500 incentive scholarship.

“As much as I love driving a truck, it’s not really soul satisfying, but I found this carpentry stuff exhilarating,” said Rocco. “The scholarship bought me my first hammer, and I’m looking at all kinds of stuff to fill my tool belt.”

The Kaiser Permanente grant helped establish the Promise to Career Construction Fund at Los Rios Community College District in Sacramento last fall, which offers scholarships in construction and construction pre-apprenticeship certificate programs at its Cosumnes River College and in the construction apprenticeship program at its American River College.

The scholarship program has the dual purpose of encouraging more people to enter the construction trades where there are good-paying jobs that don’t require a 4-year college degree and of providing fresh faces to a commercial and residential construction market hobbled by decades of declining interest among new workers.

Twenty-six-year-old Spencer Kwong of Sacramento recently received a scholarship and hopes to enter the home building trade, first as a carpenter, then eventually as a manager or company owner.

“For a long time, I wanted to work with my hands, and I thought I would do physical therapy, but my grades were not the best,” said Kwong. “So, I decided to go the construction trade route. After the first week, we were working with skill saws and it felt great, interesting, and different.”

Helping to expand access to quality, well-paying jobs through programs like this is an integral part of Kaiser Permanente’s efforts to improve economic security, housing stability, and health in the communities the organization serves, said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president of External and Community Affairs.

“With strong starting wages, paid training, and long-term professional prospects, construction careers have the potential to deliver stability and wealth creation for a large group of people entering the workforce or looking for new careers,” added Radford.

Learning how to use tools such as a drywall cutter is part of the curriculum in the construction program at Cosumnes River College.

Michele Steiner, Los Rios Community College District regional director of philanthropy, said the decline of the construction worker labor pool comes as older workers retire without replacements.

“They are aging out and we are not seeing the next generation come in,” said Steiner. “You see a lot of interest in software development instead. We’re looking to address that gap by recruiting students to our programs and referring them to local employers when they are done.”

Los Rios has awarded 16 $500 scholarships to students who can then apply for a second $500 when they receive their program certificate. The Kaiser Permanente grant will help fund 200 more student scholarships.

Ryan Connally, construction technology professor at Cosumnes River College, said his certificate classes get students a leg up in an increasingly expensive and competitive community.

“We get a lot of students who come in and they are essentially underfunded in life, that’s the best way I can describe it,” said Connally. “Some haven’t been able to find their way out of a minimum wage service sector job, and they are drawn to the classes because of the potential for high earnings in the industry.”

For Rocco, who wants to eventually get a contractor’s license and become a homebuilder, the construction program and scholarship have helped him visualize a better future.

“Now that I’ve been introduced to carpentry, I can completely see transitioning out of truck driving and into building,” said Rocco. “I’m living the dream.”


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