Matthew Martinez also graduated. He says, “VAC has been very helpful and now what I want to look into is maybe plumbing or carpentry. I love it. It’s something I have developed a passion for.”
VAC participants in the construction cohort work to restore the iconic Helm and Pacific Southwest buildings in downtown Fresno. In addition, trainees can work on projects with Habitat for Humanity. During their 12-week training, Larsen and Martinez both had a chance to work with contractors who are employers in the Fresno area. Addison said, “It was perfect for me to kind of explore the different areas that I might like to move into and also provide a livable wage.”
Trainees receive in-class instruction as well as job site experience. Trainees in the construction cohort had the opportunity to work with masonry, electrical, drywall, carpentry, and plumbing. In the classroom, they received instruction in first aid, CPR, hazardous materials training, and blueprint reading. Participants graduate with nine certifications.
VAC also uses a classroom curriculum, which teaches soft skills called “Thinking for A Change.” It teaches lessons based on social and work interactions, from how to negotiate—to how to apologize. It covers all the requirements and skills they will need at a job site. Martinez says, “It’s a different way of thinking. It gives you a structure to move forward in tough situations instead of just acting on your emotions. The VAC program made us comfortable with ourselves and with each other enabling us to actually build connections because that’s what you’re going to need out in the field.”
Although Addison joined the construction cohort, he also had an interest in manufacturing. So, his VAC program facilitators invited him to a manufacturing summit in Fresno where he could meet potential employers. Training facilitator, Josh Soleno, said graduates of the VAC program have an advantage over the general public. “They’ve already shown some effort. The employers are comfortable knowing our students have already put some work in and they are going to be hardworking. They have their safety certifications, and they have OSHA 10. So, they’re ready to hire.”
VAC trainees can earn up to $21 an hour, on average. Participants must be dedicated and driven to succeed in the free, 12-week course. They have training Monday through Friday.
After graduation, participants are matched with a local employer and are able to begin a career in construction. Some graduates have gone on to work at places like Fresno Plumbing and Heating, West Valley Construction, and Lyles Utility Construction.
Addison is in talks with Cummins, a diesel engine manufacturing company, in Fresno. He is considering a diesel mechanic apprenticeship with the company. “It’s a four-year apprenticeship, and it opens up opportunities to work on a whole bunch of different things and get into the union that I had my eye on.”
Matthew is applying to different unions. He says the VAC program has taken him out of his comfort zone, challenged him, and opened new doors. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for this program. I’ve learned construction skills, but also, you know, life skills and social skills.”
Josh says VAC trainees can make valuable connections with the unions. “There are unions which aren’t even accepting people on their hiring list right now from the general public. But through our apprenticeship program, they hand out the applications that day. For example, the Operators Engineers, Local Union No. 3, are so backlogged they have a waiting list of two-to-three years before accepting applications from the public. But our graduates are allowed to go test, put in an application, and get on the hiring list. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply, as well. So yeah, it’s an opportunity that the general public doesn’t get.”
VAC is accepting applications for its next cohort in Mendota, which starts in January. Trainees must have reliable transportation, must be at an 8th grade level for reading and math, and they must be at least 18 years old.