Youth-focused tech education nonprofit Hopeworks Camden announced this week that in early 2020, it’ll be introducing an infrastructure training program to its organization.
The nonprofit will partner with Kensington-based civil engineering and land surveying company Rodriguez Consulting on a workforce development program in infrastructure projects using skills such as reading and relaying information from geographic information system (GIS) programs and working at project sites for construction companies or agencies like local water departments.
Like Hopeworks’ other programs, the infrastructure program will include pre-employment training, an internship and infrastructure training, and an externship and career placement.
“We need engineering aides, people who can read a GIS, understand it in the physical world and help us replace the aging infrastructure in a lot of cities,” said Dan Rhoton, executive director of Hopeworks. “Nobody grows up saying they want to grow up to be an engineering aide, but it pays very well and it has a massive need.”
Lou Rodriguez, the CEO and president of Rodriguez Consulting, recently testified to Philadelphia City Council about the lack of trained and experienced infrastructure employees. He urged that folks consider alternatives to the traditional four-year college experience when planning for the future, and touted the recent partnership with Hopeworks.
“This is coming from someone that serves as a board trustee at Widener University,” he told council members.
The first cohort for the program will include about eight people, Rhoton said, and there will “definitely be some trial and error.” In additional to the technical skills needed for these jobs, the participants will also learn soft skills — the professional, social and emotional side of functioning in a workplace.
At any given time, Hopeworks is working with about 115 young, primarily Black and Brown people from the Philly and Camden areas either on active tech training, in apprenticeships, through internships or in real-life work environments. Earlier this year, the organization tracked that it had trained more than 1,500 kids since 2016, and the students hailed from 110 ZIP codes in the two states.
Like other training programs at Hopeworks, this infrastructure program is offering a direct path to steady employment without higher ed, Rhoton said.
“Folks are waking up realizing you don’t need a college degree to get a well paying sustainable job,” he added, echoing Rodriguez.
And more and more people are realizing that infrastructure, especially in older cities like Philadelphia will be a huge challenge for younger generations in this country to deal with.
“And this places young Black and Brown people squarely at the linchpin of this change for our country,” Rhoton said of the program. “This is something that’s not going to be automated, or AI-ed — this is work that will continue to be needed.”
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