Course offers more than building lessons

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The six fathers who graduated Friday from a four-week program in construction training were not sure whether there would be Father&8217;s Day gifts for them today.

To most, the gifts were not important. There might be a card or maybe a cookout &8212; probably not a tie.

But on this Father&8217;s Day, the men have something to give to their children &8212; a lesson about working hard and reaching a goal.

Email newsletter signup

&8220;I think we teach them something about responsibility,&8221; said Theofield Williams of Ferriday. &8220;And just being supportive of your family and showing the meaning of family structure is what it&8217;s all about.&8221;

Williams and the other graduates spent eight hours a day for the past four weeks learning carpentry, plumbing, roofing, electricity, drywall, masonry and painting.

The Mississippi Construction Education Foundation and the WIN Job Center are partners in providing the basic construction training.

In addition to Natchez, programs also are under way in McComb and Jackson.

Ed Colwell, instructor for the Natchez program, said it was not easy. The men faced challenges and deadlines and learned skills they might never have thought they could do.

The program required students to build a small building. They did it, with Colwell&8217;s instruction. &8220;I basically showed them how to do it and then stood back and let them do it,&8221; he said. &8220;There were some mistakes made. We had to tear some things out, but that&8217;s how you learn.&8221;

Williams had a job offer in Tennessee. He came to the construction program with a little experience but wanted more validation &8212; the certificate that lets employers know he has had a certain level of training.

He also wanted to make a point with his stepson. &8220;Once I started the program, I wanted to finish it,&8221; he said. &8220;I wanted to show him that when you start a program, you finish it.&8221;

Derrick Brown learned skills that he used in his own home. &8220;I have done drywall work, but I was going to pay a guy to build my kitchen cabinets. I built them myself day before yesterday.&8221;

What might they be doing if not working in construction? One said, &8220;flipping burgers.&8221; Another said the men will never have to do that but, instead, may build the restaurant.

The nationally recognized certificates they received Friday, along with OSHA Safety Certification, ensure the men of better opportunities. The program will help to place them in jobs.

&8220;We have found our placement ratio is 60 to 70 percent,&8221; said Robert Dean, president of The Mississippi Construction Education Foundation.

The foundation, formed in 1996 and located in Ridgeland, is a nonprofit organization supported by the construction industry. The mission is to promote, recruit and train for the construction trades.

The four-week programs like the one completed Friday in Natchez will continue through June 2007. &8220;We hope to provide nine classes at each site,&8221; Dean said.

Funding for the program comes from the Southcentral Mississippi Workforce Investment Area, which serves 17 counties through nine WIN Job Centers.

The new construction programs are a direct result of Hurricane Katrina, as construction workers are in short supply for the rebuilding and job opportunities abound, Dean said.

The foundation also helped to start programs on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that now are run by community colleges.

Dean said one purpose of the programs in Natchez, McComb and Jackson is to train construction workers who will remain in central and southwest Mississippi counties. &8220;With all the work on the coast, there&8217;s a likelihood of shortages in construction workers in other parts of the state,&8221; he said.

Anyone interested in finding out about the next program should go to the WIN Job Center at the Employment Security Office, 310 Briarwood Road; or call 601-442-0243.

The WIN center does initial screening, contacts the foundation and, &8220;We tell them they&8217;ve been accepted,&8221; Dean said. &8220;We tell them when and where to go.&8221;

Colwell retired as an executive in the Chicago Transit System and moved to Natchez in 2000. A lifelong lover of construction skills, he learned the trades at an early age by working in his uncles&8217; construction business.

&8220;I&8217;ve worked with tools all my life,&8221; he said. &8220;I have the idea that anybody can do it if I can.&8221;

The students who graduated Friday have impressed him, Colwell said. &8220;They work until the day is over, and they work with the same vigor they started with.&8221;

In addition to Williams and Brown, students who completed the program are Fabian White, Cornelius Jefferson, Gary Hawkins and Reggie Henderson, all of Ferriday.