For the past nine weeks, a group of West Siders have been learning skills and making connections they would need to get jobs in the construction industry.  

Founded by Commonwealth Edison, the Construct program brings together utility companies, construction companies, labor unions and community organizations to train minority residents who want to work skilled blue-collar jobs. 

On the West Side, Construct works with Austin People’s Action Center, a nonprofit social services and employment training organization that was founded by members of Third Unitarian Church in Austin and other south Austin residents. 

A few days before the latest cohort’s graduation, a few Austin residents who were on their way to completing the program spoke about the opportunities that Construct offered. 

Danzel Scott, 28, who said he found out about the program through a friend who was already enrolled, wants to break into the construction industry because of the pay and the opportunity to travel. He said that the pensions available to union workers is an additional incentive to going into construction. 

“I used to do building construction, so I had a background, but I never bothered [to do more],” Scott said. “I’m kind of upset that I started late, so I’m trying to get my younger cousins into it, so they can get a start earlier in life.” 

Justin Brown, 36, found out about the program from his younger sister. He said that he was interested in training to become an overhead lineman.

Quinton Gibson, 30, said he heard about the program from a friend who already completed it. He said he wanted to work for Nicor Gas. 

Job-shadowing is a major component of the training program. Gibson and Brown said they appreciated the chance to get a first-hand look at the specifics of the job.

“The job-shadowing definitely gives you an opportunity to see whether you want that job,” Gibson said.

All three said that they appreciated that the program helped them get certifications, as well as a chance to talk with members of trade unions. Brown and Gibson said they felt that this would give them a leg up in job search and provide support. Brown said that, once he graduated from the program, his first priority would be to apply for union membership. 

Brown said that he appreciated the help he received with creating his resume, while Scott said that he appreciated a variety of aspects. 

“They teach us professionalism, and also math and reading concepts,” Brown said. “They mold us into the people the company want to employ.” 

Scott said the program also gave them an opportunity to network.

“Most companies, you can’t get into it unless you know someone in the company,” he said. “They give us a head start.”


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...