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‘You can take charge’: Portland Youth Builders program gives local youth their start to a career in construction

The free Portland Youth Builders Bridge Program gives young adults experience in construction, paving the way for a well-paid career.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A free Portland-area program is giving young people a leg up when it comes to a career in construction. For the past four years, the Portland Youth Builders' (PYB) Bridge Program has helped local young adults break into the competitive job market.

"I want to point out, these are careers where people are going to make $30 to $45 an hour plus benefits. These are not fallback career positions," PYB Construction Trainer Sean Parks said.

After more than two decades as a carpenter, Parks is now constructing the next generation of builders.

"It's kind of my dream job," he said.

Parks directs the Build Program at PYB. It’s a pre-apprenticeship program that gives students a start to a career in construction.

"It's designed to sort of bolster the resume when they're applying for an apprenticeship program," Parks said.

The program is a second chance for young people whose route to success might have been interrupted and are looking for a steady career in construction. Students like Rylee Grubbe.

"I'm a single mom," she said. "I'm 25. So, I'm ready to have a career, but I wasn't ready to be in debt and go to college for five days a week just to maybe not find a job or a career."

"So, traditionally, these jobs tend to favor people who look a lot like me," Parks said, "White, male and a lot of times people in the construction industry come from a family tradition of construction and so it puts a lot of our students at kind of a disadvantage."

PYB opens the door for people like Grubbe to get that experience. She is now just days away from completing several certifications through PYB. She has her eye on apprenticeships as an electrician or plumber.

"This was a direct in. Very smooth, free, no headache," she said about her experience. "It's very to the point. So that was exciting to find.

Instead of taking out loans, Grubbe and her peers have the chance to earn a small weekly stipend at PYB, and once they move on and start apprenticeships, they’ll earn money as well, according to Parks.

PYB is supported by grants from Washington County and the nonprofit Work Systems. The Bureau of Labor and Industries' certified program prepares around 200 young people every year for apprenticeships.

The program usually focuses on nine weeks of hands-on training in the field and two weeks of in-classroom training, but the pandemic forced PYB to close its building.

"There's been a pretty steep learning curve here," Parks said. "I'm used to being hands-on and being out in the field and showing people how to use tools up close and personal and we've had to learn how to do this through technology."

Instead of spending most of their time in the field, they’re learning online. The program may look a little different in a pandemic, but Rylee says it hasn't slowed her drive.

"When everybody is having to take ten steps backward, I'm taking ten steps forward. So, it's really exciting," Grubbe said.

"Really, that's what this program is designed to do: to help students get a little bit of experience, help them learn how to talk about construction, learn how to show up, how to be there on time and to take everything they do very seriously," Parks said.

PYB’s Bridges Program is about to wrap up their latest session, but they already have two more planned for the rest of the year.

The programs will be open to Washington and Mulnomah County residents between the ages of 18 and 26. A GED or high school diploma is required to apply.

PYB is accepting applications until August 5 for the cohort that begins August 10. The following session will start October 19. Applications for that will be accepted until October 14.

Click here to apply.

 "You can take charge," said Grubbe. "You can."

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