News & Updates

News & Updates

New Program Helps Improve Math, English Skills

Juan Lara wanted to pursue a construction-related career but didn’t think his math skills were good enough.

So he signed up for a new construction math class offered through a partnership between the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board and Fresno City College. After completing the class and the MC3 Apprenticeship Readiness Program, the Dinuba resident is more than ready to move forward.

“If you don’t get the right tools, you struggle,” said Lara, 46, a father looking for a better and more secure life for his family. “If you come in with the right ones, you’ll get the job done.”

The math refresher course, along with a construction English class, was introduced to help Lara and others hone those important skills. Tomorrow’s apprentices in the building and construction trades must communicate, know construction-related terms and phrases and be able to calculate the volume of water in a pipe or the electrical load on wires, for example.

That’s where some candidates for pre-apprenticeship training can fall short. The Fresno-based classes address that issue and also serve as an opportunity to smooth out any kinks before the concept expands throughout the 14-county ValleyBuild region in 2022.

“We want to stub our toes here before taking it out to the other counties,” said Blake Konczal, the board’s executive director.

At Fresno City College, the first Construction Math class wrapped up in July with 18 graduates – and 17 of those enrolled in the summer pre-apprenticeship training class. A second session of the math class, along with the first English class, started this month.

Dr. Robert Pimentel, vice president of Educational Services and Institutional Effectiveness at the community college, said the two courses were developed and tailored for the construction industry.

“A lot of times when you haven’t been in school for a while and you are trying to change careers … it’s hard to remember a lot of the basics of writing and arithmetic,” he said. “The majority of them know their stuff but they need a refresher course.”

The college helps students on their career path, Pimentel said, and “we’re here to train people to go back to work.”

With the pre-apprenticeship training program in its 13th year in Fresno, the workforce development board has plenty of information about stumbling blocks for students.

“What we have seen over the years were three areas where really qualified people were not making the cut to get into the pre-apprenticeship program,” Konczal said. The “Clean Slate” program was developed to help candidates struggling with past issues such as suspended driver’s licenses or non-violent felony convictions.

The other two problem areas centered on weak English and math skills. Candidates who otherwise would meet requirements were being screened out for those reasons.

“If you don’t practice your math skills they go away, and construction relies on math,” Konczal said.

Students who successfully complete the City College classes aren’t guaranteed seats in a pre-apprenticeship training class, but are given first consideration, he said.

“Our union partners want us to attract a diverse pool of candidates,” Konczal said. “They are all interested in having their membership reflect the population of our state – everybody’s in agreement on that front. We have to take concrete measures to make that possible.”

Lara said the math class improved his skills and gave him confidence to take the next step. The former warehouse worker graduated from pre-apprenticeship training in August and passed the exams for plumbers/pipefitters, sheet metal and electricians.

He’s now considering his career path. His first preference is the electrician’s trade so he can work on his old house and also use his skills to help his community.

While Lara took higher math classes in high school and community college, his skills were rusty. “I hadn’t done any of this math in 20 years,” he said, and it also didn’t seem relevant to his life or career path.

“Back then, when you are young, you didn’t know how you were going to use it,” he said. “Now I know I know why.”