BY LINDSEY SALVATELLI
Six students have taken the opportunity to learn the construction trade at South Town Construction Training Center, 1122 S. Grand Ave E. Students are given hands-on-training through a 12-week program that aims to give unskilled workers potential knowledge and real experience they’re able to apply while working on residential construction sites. By the second week of the program, students have begun to develop their understanding of what to expect on a job site.
The program doesn’t just provide students with an understanding about construction, but also guides them on how to market themselves when applying for work as well as instilling confidence.
Calvin Pitts, the founder of South Town Construction Training Center, takes an interactive approach with his pupils by working alongside them when they’re being introduced to new concepts. (Springfield Business Journal, “Hope for a bright future,” Patrick Yeagle, March 2017).
Pitts has been at the forefront of developing innovative ways to teach participants at his South Town Construction Training Center and has collaborated with Ameren Illinois to give his students more of a robust experience.
“My thing is leaving them with the confidence to go and apply at some of these jobs they’ve been locked out of for all these years,” Pitts said. “Even if they have a negative response, it’s not going to tear them down. A lot of times we’ve been rejected and told ‘we can’t do this,’ or ‘that’s hard,’ so building that confidence is important.”
Student Daria Johnson, 36, said the type of training she’s learning at South Town is “in my genes,” because both of her parents have training that can be applied to construction. “The reason I came to this class is because I feel that this is something I’d like to do,” Johnson said. “I love to fix on houses and stuff like that. I can do anything I can put my mind to.”
Johnson is one of four students currently enrolled in the program without a high school diploma or a GED. Pitts said obtaining a GED isn’t necessary to complete his program, but it’s highly encouraged if students want to proceed in the trade, especially if they hope to obtain a union job. Johnson said she plans to take Pitts up on his offer to help obtain her GED, though she realizes she needs to strike a balance between her courses at South Town and GED studies.
Student David Alexander, 20, said he found out about Pitts’ program through a pastor and younger friend who was interested in the program. So far, he said, he’s loved not only gaining an understanding of a new trade, but also working with classmates who are equally engaged in what they’re learning.
Students write about their coursework in journals and reflect on their likes and dislikes. Alexander said he likes being able to reflect on his thoughts about each class because it forces him to think about what he’s learning and further develop.
“My confidence is based not only on what we’re learning from Calvin, but we’re comfortable with our classmates and our environment. We’re not just learning how to do stuff, but we’re learning why we’re doing it. I think that helps with building our confidence.”
Alexander came to program with a slight understanding of the construction trade because he has family members who work in the field, but he said he hopes he can use the knowledge he develops over the course of the program to gain a career and apply it to a home in the future.
“One day, I may want to buy a house and I want to be able to do stuff to it,” Alexander said. “I want to be able to use this knowledge when I do.”
He said he’s learned how to wire a light, which prompted him to ask Pitts if it were possible to work on projects that some of the students can take home. “I want to use these skills in a practical way, in an everyday type of way,” Alexander said.
By the second week of the curriculum, the class had noticeably loosened up. The focus of the lesson was on safety practices, and Pitts moved his students along in their lesson by engaging them in conversation about the terms they’ve learned since entering the program.
“He’s not the type of person that’ll put someone down for not knowing something, but he will correct you,” Alexander said. “The way he corrects you doesn’t make you feel like a loser.”
Pitts’ lesson wasn’t based solely on readings. The students will take on a number of projects along the way, but Pitts had them start at the basics: drilling holes into what will eventually be an electrical board.
He said he relaxes his hands-on approach with his students as they progress through the program, giving them the opportunity to develop in the field but also giving them confidence they need to succeed in any industry.
“If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry about it, but if you do, I wouldn’t be surprised,” Pitts told his class.
Lindsey Salvatelli is an editorial intern with Illinois Times as part of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s degree program at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org