Flintridge Center’s Apprenticeship Program Provides Path Out of Poverty
April 21, 2021
By Andrew Crowley
Flintridge Center’s Apprenticeship Preparation Program graduated its 40th cohort earlier this month, a major moment for the program.
Founded in 2007, the program helps the formerly incarcerated and other individuals impacted by the criminal justice system with escaping the cycle of poverty and avoiding reincarceration by training and preparing them for careers in union-construction trades.
The program is in partnership with Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council and predates Ban The Box, which legally prohibits employers with five or more employees for asking job candidates about their conviction history before extending an offer.
Currently, there are 4,800 laws on the books that place restrictions on the lives of formerly incarcerated Californians.
Graduates of the program have an employment rate of 70% and a reincarceration rate of 10% compared to a reincarceration rate of 47% for Los Angeles County.
Over the course of 10 weeks, students learn everything they need to secure gainful employment, get prepared for the physical rigor and demands of the job, and take classes on construction math.
This most recent cohort is notable for half of the graduating students being women, an underrepresented group in construction. These students are now ready to get union jobs, which do not discriminate based on background, pay a living wage, have full benefits, and provide an opportunity for advancement for students.
Andy Alvarez is not only an instructor but also a graduate of the program. After being released from incarceration, Alvarez went to the Department of Public Social Services for help and spotted a flier for the program. Alvarez said the flier asked the viewer if they wanted to be making $60,000 to $80,000 a year. It also noted that program was for the formerly incarcerated.
“If it’s for formerly incarcerated folks, then I shouldn’t have to worry about my background too much,” Alvarez said
Alvarez did not have experience in construction, but knew of the good reputation of those jobs, so he checked it out. He liked what he saw and applied for the program, where he studied to become a member of the carpenters union. He wanted to work with his hands and learn a skill and a trade.
He graduated from the program in 2015 and began working with the carpenters union. During that time, he was still in contact with the Flintridge Center and came back for services and programs such as one about getting one’s record expunged. He chatted with one of the employees of program about how things were going and if Alvarez had ever done case management services. Alvarez told him that he had some experience with it.
“He offered me a position, because I was going to school at the same time, I stopped working at the carpenters union, kept going to school and took the position here,” Alvarez said.
He earned his bachelor’s in sociology and is working toward a master’s degree in Latin American studies.
“It was a very hard decision: ‘Do I want to do the union, or do I want to continue with school?’ Because they’re both great opportunities,” Alvarez said.
Teaching is something that came naturally to Alvarez, which he attributes to his experience with school and the program.
“I try to approach it like a college environment, so I try to approach the students in that way,” Alvarez said.
His favorite things about teaching students are seeing them retain what they have learned and applying it and seeing them grow, develop and find success in their new career.
“And they mention that they just had another baby, that they bought another car, that they rented an apartment or that they moved out of their parents’ place. That’s the stuff that really motivates me,” Alvarez said. “We’re doing something for these people and making changes in their lives.”
One of those students is Frank Gonzalez, who graduated from the program in October 2020. After he got out of prison, he started working odd jobs.
“I would work, and I would stay one pay rate. It really wasn’t benefiting me in the future, so I called a friend. He called a friend that finished the program, and he told me about the program and I pursued it,” Gonzalez said. “I ended up getting into the program.”
He was excited about the program but was not sure what to expect from it. He praised his classmates as well as the instructors and staff. Alvarez was an instructor who meant a great deal to Gonzalez.
“He’s the one that’s helped me the most. He’s the one that I kept in contact with the most. I saw him the other day. He helps me out. He’s always been there for me, and it’s almost been two years,” Gonzalez said.
Initially, Gonzalez wanted to be a mason but ended up pursuing carpentry.
“You’ve got to take your time on choosing a trade, because you can’t get into a trade because you want to get to work right away,” Gonzalez said. “You’ve got to do a trade you want to do.”
Currently, Gonzalez works in carpentry as a drywall framer. He hopes to work his way up to finished carpentry, such as parquet floors, wooden panels on walls, and similar. He said that type of carpentry will take less of a toll on his body.
Gonzalez described the program as life changing and encourages anyone eligible for the program to check it out.
His instructor said that the program is valuable for what it means for the lives of students going forward.
“They’re learning a trade, a skill that no one can take away from them, and whether they’re in the union, nonunion, construction, anywhere else, they’ll be able to take that trade with them,” Alvarez said.
Esteven Valverde is a member of the 40th cohort and completed a rigorous math program to prepare to apply for membership in the electrician’s union.
“I’m not trying to settle,” Valverde said. “I’m trying to be the best I can be for myself and my family.”