Southtown Construction Training Program lays a foundation for further success

By Gabe House

Calvin Pitts clearly remembers losing his nephew nearly 20 years ago. The young man, nicknamed Bone, was killed in 1997 during a drug deal when he was just 22 years old. Pitts said it was a dark time for him personally, but as a result of it he vowed to help at least one young person take a different route from that of his nephew.

Pitts formed Bringing Others New Empowerment (B.O.N.E.), LLC. Through this, he formed the Southtown Construction Training Program in his effort to help other young people elevate themselves.

“We teach men and women job skills as far as coming to work, wearing proper attire, timeliness … those types of things,” Pitts said. “We deal with the mechanical aptitudes a lot. A lot of the people coming through didn’t have a father figure or someone to teach them some of those basic things needed to advance in the construction field. So we teach them those basics.”

The training program has a contract with the Springfield Urban League that qualifies future participants for the 24-week course. In addition to basic skill building and construction instruction, Pitts said, they will help prepare resumes and help with other facets of a job search if participants haven’t already done so through the Urban League.

“Our program connects individuals with other contractors, and that’s one of my goals,” Pitts said. “I want to give these guys the basics, and I want to make sure they’ll show up when they’re supposed to and work the hours they’re paid for. You work for eight hours, and you get paid for eight hours.”

Of course, before any talk of job searching begins in earnest, participants have to make it through those 24 weeks of instruction. And that’s no easy feat, according to Pitts.

“It requires a lot, and it’s pretty entailed. We don’t let up,” Pitts said. “Being late five minutes can get you fired on a construction job, and we deal with a lot of those things. But we also deal with being encouraging to one another rather than trying to pull one another down. We encourage them to encourage each other.”

The first 12 weeks of the program grants participants a certificate of completion through Southtown Training. That certification is necessary for the second 12-week period. Upon that completion, though, program participants will have a nationally recognized Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (PACT) record through the National Association of Home Builders. It’s a program the NAHB specifically designed to teach at-risk and underserved populations, including academically challenged individuals.

So more than just community outreach, the Southtown Construction Training Program legitimately prepares its trainees for a future in construction. And, Pitts said, there have been success stories.

“I had a gentleman just released from prison and living in a halfway house. He had never worked a job in his life,” Pitts said. “His parents were drug dealers and users, and he had spent his life in and out of prison because of his involvement with drugs. He became a part of our program, successfully completed it, and this guy is now getting married and has two jobs.”

In another instance, a man in similar circumstances completed the training program and began working for a local contractor. Within just three weeks, Pitts said, he became a full-time hire.

“It’s about gaining the skills, but also the confidence needed to think, ‘Hey, I can do this,’” Pitts said.

As in any endeavor, though, these things cost money. Pitts said the Southtown Construction Training Program is certified as a 501(c)(3), so it’s a tax-exempt, not-for-profit charitable organization. And it needs funding.

“We have a building that we are in the process of renovating right now. As far as some of the materials that’s needed … we need funding,” Pitts said. “I would like to be able to put something out there for someone to support what we’re doing. It’s going to take a lot to really get things set up for this to continue to grow.”

Gabe House is a freelance writer in Springfield.