Whitmer, Duggan kick off grand opening of Detroit training center – Detroit Free Press

Whitmer, Duggan kick off grand opening of Detroit training center – Detroit Free Press

State and local officials are promising Detroiters a chance at skilled trades work and training through an apprenticeship program at the Michigan Regional Carpenters and Millwrights’ new center.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mayor Mike Duggan and several county, city and union officials kicked off the grand opening of the union’s $30 million investment in a 145,000-square-foot training facility at 11687 American Ave. in Detroit on Wednesday. Officials touted a four-year apprenticeship for carpenters, floor layers and millwrights, which will be available to 1,500 students per year.

For some like Vancey Pruett II, 20, the experience has created a family-like environment. Pruett is a third-year millwright apprentice who visits different plants to work on a variety of projects, such as building conveyor belts and anything that needs to be “screwed, bolted or welded,” she said. Pruett added that she also learned a number of life lessons on the job that she wasn’t exposed to throughout her childhood.

“I learned how to work on a team, how to approach issues, confrontation, how to problem-solve, just basic lessons that adults have to learn. I was 18 when I got in. Three days after graduation, I walked in my first plant, so I was green, and I was scared. They welcomed me right in and taught me everything I need to know,” Pruett said.

Pruett was born in Kentucky and moved to Michigan at age 3. At 14, she was adopted by her grandmother, who found a summer carpenters’ boot camp, which led her on the pathway to becoming a millwright. At 18, she took some vocational classes before enrolling in the apprenticeship program.

“Coming from where I came from, there were two choices: have a kid early and rely on the system or find another way. So I hit the books hard in school, and I earned myself a great GPA, a place in the National Technical Honor Society and a four-year scholarship to (University of Michigan) Ann Arbor,” Pruett said. “When I got my call saying I was accepted, I screamed. I’m a millwright and I wouldn’t want to be anything else.”

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Enrollment in the program is free and students are promised wages, health care and pension benefits while they train. The union is also guaranteeing that 25% of all incoming first-year apprentices in the next decade  will be Detroit residents.

Requirements include having a high school diploma or GED, but Tom Lutz, president of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, said if applicants do not yet have either one, the program will help them train and prepare to receive it.

“We do everything that we can to support the men and women who want to be here,” Lutz said.

Details of the program are available at buildmifuture.com/apprenticeship/.

Whitmer said the new facility, which has new classrooms, training areas and advanced tools in the industry, marks a step toward her “Sixty by 30” goal of ensuring 60% of working-age Michiganders earn a skills certificate or postsecondary degree by 2030. The number is currently at 49%, according to the governor’s office.

“We’re making real progress. It’s not just about numbers, it’s about people. It’s about lives and it’s about building an economy that creates opportunity for everyone. And it’s about ensuring that there are phenomenal training opportunities like the one that this represents,” Whitmer said. 

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Duggan said much of the region’s construction work has been in the suburbs, although the city has seen more construction in recent years among auto plants, a sports arena, high-rise buildings and housing projects. 

“Detroiters were not only left out in the trades, they were left out of access to the building sites because it wasn’t easy to get to. But what we’ve seen in the last eight years is that the center of construction has shifted back to Detroit,” Duggan said.  “I wanted to make sure as we move the construction back, that Detroiters had access to these jobs. We fought very hard for it.”

Dana Afana is the Detroit city hall reporter for the Free Press. Contact Dana: [email protected] or 313-635-3491. Follow her on Twitter: @DanaAfana.

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