North Bay Construction Corps career program expands to 5 Northern California counties

A program that aims to inspire and prepare North Bay high school seniors for careers in the construction trades is building on a big addition in four more counties early next year.

From the pedagogical and logistical framing already up in Sonoma County, North Bay Construction Corps will be starting classes in Marin, Napa and Lake counties, adding more cohorts in Sonoma County and incorporating a mirror program in Mendocino County. Now the push is to sign up students for the new cohorts and recruit working contractors and industry professionals as volunteer teachers, according to Kathy Goodacre, executive director for Career Technical Education Foundation Sonoma County, one of the founders of the corps.

“We want to make sure students are hearing from contractors involved in the real world,” she said. “The commitment isn’t that big, like one night or one Saturday, talking about the trade, what is expected as an employer, what starting wages are and hands-on training for perspective trades.”

The corps expansion is possible because of a two-year $1 million grant awarded this past spring to Career Technical Education Foundation Sonoma County from Tipping Point Community to launch the expansion to Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. The Marin expansion is supported by $56,800 pledged in recent months by the Mario Ghilotti Family Foundation, overseen by Mike Ghilotti, president of San Rafael-based general engineering contractor Ghilotti Bros.

The CTE foundation is contracting with North Coast Builders Exchange to administer the program in its service area - Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. The exchange worked with Sonoma County Office of Education and Santa Rosa Junior College to develop curriculum for the coursework, which would lead to industry-recognized certifications such as CPR and first aid, forklift and boom lift operation, personal protective equipment and ladder safety.

After a pilot class in 2016, the program launched at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park in early 2017. Nine students stuck through to the end of the 14-week program, which met on a weeknight for two hours and one Saturday a month for five. Some were hired by local contractors and others went on to universities to study construction management, architecture or engineering.

“We knew we would expand before the fires, and after the fires, it grew with funding and student interest,” Goodacre said.

In the second year of the corps, a cohort for north county students was added at Healdsburg High, led by Terry Pagni, also lead corps coordinator. Out of 41 who enrolled in both Sonoma County cohorts this year, 37 remained after the five months, and 27 of those went on to complete the 14-day June boot camp, where skills and training were put to the test in a workaday environment with a $750 stipend and job fair with contractors at the end.

“Pretty much every graduate from that received one, or in some cases, multiple job offers, with starting wages of $18 to $20 an hour,” Goodacre said.

Mendocino County started its own corps early this year, based at Ukiah High. Of the 21 that started that program, 17 completed it, according to Robin Bartholow, who runs the corps at North Coast Builders Exchange.

The Tipping Point Community grant proposal called for 300 graduates over two years. The goal for next year from the seven cohorts in five counties is 125 graduates, Bartholow said. The new Sonoma County cohort in 2019 will be at Sonoma Valley High, coordinated by Drewe Jacobs. American Canyon High sustainable construction instructor Chuck Peckinpaugh will be leading a cohort at Napa High. Kelseyville High instructor Mike Zeni will be coordinating the new Lake County cohort there. And Eric Crawford continues to lead the Ukiah High cohort.

Mike Ghilotti worked with Marin Builders Association to port over the corps to the county for 2019. It will be based at Terra Linda High in San Rafael and led by Jesse Madsen, senior pathways coach for Marin County Office of Education. An informational meeting three weeks ago attracted more than two dozen students and parents, and 15 students have applied, according to Rick Wells, Marin Builders Association CEO, and Goodacre.

“We’ve been hearing from our members for at least two years about a shortage of qualified workers,” Wells said.

“Qualified” means they have basic training in the industry workings such as communication and safety standards, show up on time and are reliable

“We feel like this is one of our best programs to get men and women ready for careers in the industry,” Wells said.

The deadline for registering students in North Bay Construction Corps, via, has been extended from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 in Sonoma County because a number of school districts were closed for days because of unhealthy air quality from wildfire smoke. Marin’s program deadline remains Nov. 30, with student interviews in December.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Contact him at or 707-521-4256.

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