Students build construction careers with Ace Mentor Program

ACE Mentor Program/Ginn Academy student at a Construction Trade Fair.

ACE Mentor Program/Ginn Academy student at a Construction Trade Fair.

Not all high school graduates want to go to a college or university. So, what’s left for them? A low-wage job? Fast food? Unfortunately, that’s what many young Clevelanders see as their only choice.

But, the ACE Mentor Program of Cleveland wants them to know there are viable career options. 

For the last 13 years, ACE has worked to expose high school students to careers in the Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) fields through project-based learning from ACE industry professionals. It has also awarded over $1 million in scholarships to Cleveland and Warrensville Heights High School students aspiring to further their education.

However, most recently, ACE Mentor’s Career Pathway Committee has made helping students enter the skilled trades unions more of a priority. 

This committee formed as program leaders realized a percentage of ACE students were not  interested in attending traditional two to four year colleges. The Career Pathway Committee remains in contact with these ACE Mentor Program students, once they graduate, and provides them with internships as well as connections to the trades and guidance. 

Aneal Lochan, an ACE Mentor participant and James F. Rhodes High School graduate, was one of those students. With the support from Construction Employers Association Executive Vice President and ACE Mentor Program Executive Director Glen Shumate in addition to other ACE mentors, Lochan went into an apprenticeship and is now employed as a carpenter. 

“I have been working with Oppenheim Construction Companies (OCC) for the past five years,” Lochan said. “I have been fortunate to have not been off work for a single day within that time. I have worked on over 30 job sites all across the city with numerous contractors.”

Cindy Lietson, Career Pathway Committee co-chair and vice president of Capital, Construction, and Supply Management at Cuyahoga Community College, said, “We wanted to make sure [those students] have a career pathway. We’re trying to catch them early.” 

Lietson has been on the ACE Mentor board for four years. “We all work so closely. The trades are so critical to our field,” continued Lietson, explaining how it just makes sense to build this pipeline. 

The Career Pathway Committee officially started in 2018 and has established a trades focused program at Ginn Academy and awarded scholarships to help students enter pre-apprenticeship programs. The scholarships provide support with application fees as well as purchasing necessary safety equipment for work. This committee has served about nine students so far.  

Due to the pandemic last year, The Committee was not able to be as hands on as in the past, but did facilitate virtual webinars with trade and apprenticeship professionals who could discuss what the work is like, the process and help with the pre-apprenticeship applications.  

“I do think it’s a matter of exposure,” Lietson said. “For some kids, it really resonates.”

Lietson said they’ve learned they have to be very transparent and that having real conversations works better than showing Powerpoint slides. 

She believes it’s important for students to know these careers exist and are available to them, since the industry is so stable. 

“Construction is still strong,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work going on. Even after Covid, as the economy comes back, there will be local and state projects.”

Joe DiGeronimo, vice president of Precision Environmental and Career Pathway Committee member says programs like this are imperative to addressing the labor shortage issue. 

Although several news stories have been done locally, over the last few years, on this labor shortage issue, there’s no comprehensive data points to provide a clear picture. 

“The trades have so much need,” DiGeronimo said. “Succession has to be so much of what we do. We need help. We’re looking for people. We have an aging workforce. We need backfill. We need to infuse new talent.” 

Shumate believes and sees enhanced opportunities working with the Career Pathways Committee as they provide real career building connections, resources and opportunities. 

“The future for ACE Mentor to continue to enrich Greater Cleveland is strong,” he said. “With ACE students providing solutions for neighborhoods, downtown and the sustainability of Cleveland as well as joining the workforce.”

Rhonda Crowder is a freelance journalist, entrepreneur, author and literacy advocate. She is also the associate publisher of Who’s Who in Black Cleveland.

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