CLEVELAND — A local developer and contractors are trying to address a shortage of qualified workers in the building and construction trades, and they hope to attract more young people to pursue that career path.
Bo Knez, president of B.R. Knez Construction, said he and others started talking early this year about how to cultivate a new base of trade workers as part of the ongoing redevelopment of the Glenville neighborhood.
"There’s a shortage of tradesmen and women throughout the United States but specifically in Northeast Ohio," Knez said. "And as times continue, that trade base becomes smaller and smaller and we just want to vocalize what opportunities are out there today, which there are many, for these young people that have interest in getting in the trades."
Knez described the opportunities as "endless" and said he wants to get young people involved because most of the training is on-the-job.
"If you enjoy your trade and would like to get certified in it, the schooling can happen at any point in time," Knez said. "But what we’re trying to advocate is having them try getting into a trade that they think they may like [and] getting on-the-job training."
Knez's company recently built several new homes in the Glenville neighborhood on lots that had been vacant, in some cases for 20 or 30 years.
"We started redeveloping the area with new product that looks similar to the existing product," Knez said, adding that the homes are tax-abated and Energy Star rated.
Knez said there is not only a shortage of workers in the trades in general but especially among workers of color.
Mark Wilson, who has been working in the building and construction trades for about 20 years, said he's noticed that, too.
"I’ve noticed that a lot. I try to work with them when I can," Wilson said. "I hire a lot of subcontractors, but there’s definitely a shortage of African American tradesmen."
Wilson, who said he always knew he wanted to get into real estate and flip homes, took a 10-month carpentry class years ago.
"Experience has been my best teacher since there, and I just kind of tackled every trade and went one-by-one as I went along," Wilson said.
Wilson said while he promotes the idea of college personally, he understands college is not for everyone and that there can be financial obstacles.
"Kids believe in athletes and musicians and things like that, but they also need to see responsible entrepreneurs that they can actually see, feel and touch and know that that’s a possibility too," Wilson said. "So that means a lot to be able to present that and talk to the kids about that."
Wilson and his wife now own a real estate brokerage called Brick House Realty, as well as a construction company called Pyramid Home Renovation.
"We do everything from fix and flips to renovation to build new construction," Wilson said. "We do all facets of real estate, and then the brokerage, traditional buyers, sellers, things like that, we work with a ton of investors."
For Kory Clark, who is now a real estate development specialist with the nonprofit Burton, Bell, Carr Development, Inc., the realization that he was interested in real estate and the trades came after college when he decided the job he was working wasn't what he wanted to do.
Now, he oversees the Burton, Bell, Carr home repair program and is in charge of acquisitions of residential and commercial buildings in the Central/Kinsman and Buckeye-Shaker neighborhoods.
For young people, he urged them to reflect on what they want to do with their lives or what areas interest them.
"Look for people who are doing what you want to do and just be honest with them," Clark said. "Tell them that you’re looking to learn and whether it’s working for them or referring you to someone else, that’s the first step I would take."
Darrion Polk, 19, was one of the young people who attended Friday's lunch. He said he'd just moved back to Cleveland after a semester of community college in North Carolina.
"It definitely gives hope," Polk said of the chance to learn more about the construction trades. "Coming from the inner city in Cleveland, you don’t see a lot of opportunities, so it definitely shows you there’s opportunity to do things greater in life and be to the benefit of society."
Polk and the others in the group came to the lunch Friday as part of a summer landscaping and garden program with which they're involved, through the Famicos Foundation, a community development corporation serving the Glenville, Hough and St. Clair-Superior neighborhoods.
"College is not for everybody," said Erica Robinson-Burnett, director of community building and engagement for Famicos. "This is another alternative for them to go into, so this would be something they can do after high school."
Robinson-Burnett also said she believed trades should be an option for students in high school.
"I think there should be more opportunities that they are exposed to at the high school level so that they know that these type of opportunities do exist," Robinson-Burnett said.
Polk said he was still exploring his options but wanted to keep all the possible doors open.
"Really just how to get started," Polk said of what he hoped to learn from the event. "Someone who might’ve not seen this as an option or a career path and life, like you wouldn’t dream of this growing up as a kid, but as you get older, you start to see that there’s more opportunities that you didn’t necessarily think of but it might be the right thing for you."
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