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Planned North Bay jobs center gets $7M to train up to 500 a year in construction trades

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Santa Rosa Junior College plans to build a training center intended to train hundreds of workers in the construction trades annually, fueled by a $7.12 million grant revealed Monday.

The community college and the Sonoma County Economic Development Board announced the award would fund the creation of the North Bay Regional Construction and Building Trades Employment Training Center on the school's Petaluma campus.

“The center, operating at full capacity, should be able to produce up to 500 skilled job seekers each year, which will make a big impact on the critical shortage of trained workers in the construction industry,” said Nancy Miller, director of regional adult education programs for SRJC and the Sonoma County Adult Education Consortium.

She is said to have led the college's efforts to secure the grant funding, wich came from U.S. Economic Development Administration disaster relief funds. The center is intended to help with staffing challenges contractors have noted throughout the North Bay recovery and rebuild efforts since the October 2017 wildfires.

“Affordable housing is extremely limited in Sonoma County right now and construction professionals are in high demand,” college President Frank Chong said in the announcement. “I am thrilled that SRJC will be able to provide high-quality training for students who want to enter the building trades at this new facility. This is another way that the college will help build a foundation for Sonoma County’s future.”

After some of the deadliest wildfires in California’s history destroyed over 5,300 homes in October 2017, a housing impact study was commissioned as a part of the Strategic Sonoma Action Plan partnership recovery efforts. The study by Beacon Economics identified the need to build 30,000 more housing units to account for local fire losses, overcrowding, and employment growth, according to Sonoma County EDB Executive Director Sheba Person-Whitley.

Person-Whitley also commented that the project was a great example of a collaborative partnership between the EDB and SRJC. The EDB also led efforts to secure a $1 million matching grant from the Tipping Point Community Foundation.

“If partners are able to mobilize around the Regional Construction and Trades Training and Employment Center to achieve this ambitious goal, Sonoma County could position itself as a model for addressing this pressing post-disaster relief need in other California communities,” said David Rabbitt, Second District county supervisor.

SRJC said the new facility to offer short-term career skill training classes leading to noncredit certificates in areas such as:

  • construction and building trades
  • industrial residential construction methods
  • home repair and maintenance
  • construction project planning and supervision
  • hardscape
  • softscape
  • fire prevention through landscape

Planned for-credit programs would take one to four semesters to complete. Those include the following:

  • heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)
  • refrigeration technician
  • solar panel technology
  • construction management

An associate degree program for students in trade union apprenticeships is under development, the college said.

The college's construction training center is the latest effort to rebuild the construction workforce after the housing industry recession started in mid-2006 and stretched into 2012. North Coast Builders Exchange, Career Technical Education Foundation of Sonoma County, Sonoma County Office of Education and the college launched North Bay Construction Corps in 2017.

It is designed to give high school seniors basic construction trade skills and job "soft" skills such as dependability, making them ready for potential employers to train after program graduation ends each June.

The fourth year of classes for the corps starts this month in four counties: Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino and now Lake. In 2019, 98 graduated from the program.

Unions also have North Bay apprentice training centers for certain trades, with instruction in other trades provided elsewhere in the Bay Area and California.

Workforce Development Board of Solano County is in the third year of its youth pre-apprenticeship construction training program, a partnership between the board and Northern California Laborers' Training Center. The program targets adults ages 18-24 and this year will be based at Fairfied-Suisun Adult Schools, according to Heather Henry, president and executive director of the local workforce board.

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