Denver resident Che Derrera used to work in office settings. But, as he puts it, he got in some trouble that made finding employment difficult. He ended up spending some time unemployed.
He found his way to a job fair in Denver in November. The visit paid off: Twenty-eight days later, he found himself in a job with help from WorkNow. The program strives to connect local residents with construction jobs in public and private projects throughout the Denver metro area.
Derrera, 45, is now a traffic signal apprentice with Sturgeon Electric in Denver whose work includes the I-70 expansion project. As of September, WorkNow has successfully made at least 251 job placements since launching last year, which is a figure that’s ahead of projections.
Katrina Wert, Director of the Center for Workforce Initiatives at Community College of Denver, said organizers had projected 200 people placed in jobs in its first year. The Community College of Denver was one of 11 agencies that formed an alliance called Colorado Resource Partners (CORE) that established the WorkNow program.
The program didn’t just provide the gig. It also helped Derrera get tools for the job and pay apprenticeship and union fees. They even provided a pair of boots.
“It isn’t so much the resources that they provide … it’s the care and concern that the individuals show for each of their clients,” Derrera said. “They take a deep look at what you need and they go out of their way to assist you in what you need. Their assistance changed me greatly.”
If Derrera sounds like a spokesperson, he’s not too far off. He’s planning on serving as an ambassador for the program.
Tony Anderson, director for Workforce Services at the city’s Office of Economic Development, said the initiative stems from conversations started nearly three years ago
The office is another member of CORE. Anderson said a series of roundtable discussions with community and workforce stakeholders zeroed in some of the concerns they had over how construction job opportunities were developing.
“For those of us doing that work, to develop workforce in construction, we discovered it was being done in a siloed way,” Anderson said. There was a lot of disconnect between the industry and people who were interested in support and training for jobs within the industry.
The community’s message was pretty clear: Help our residents get more access to job opportunity and training.
With help from philanthropic organization Gary Community Investments, funding was provided to establish WorkNow. Anderson said additional funding was secured through the Colorado Department of Transportation
The initiative is now at the center of how Denver Workforce helps with construction job training and development. Since launching in October 2017, WorkNow has enrolled 582 people in programs, with 307 completing training certification.
“We would absolutely consider the project as success up to this point,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the majority of the people participating in WorkNow are Denver residents, with others coming in from nearby Aurora and Adams County.
“We need more than just Denver residents,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to serve metro Denver, of course with a priority to Denver residents.”
Wert said the program’s job placement includes at least 40 positions related to contractors working massive I-70 expansion project, officially called the Central 70 Project. Other projects where WorkNow has placed workers include the Gaylord Hotel, the Denver Art Museum and the National Western Center.
The Denver Workforce Center at Montbello is also pushing to get more people into jobs related to the I-70 expansion.
The center is overseen by the city’s Office of Economic Development office.
District 11 Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore said recently Montbello was one of several neighborhoods along the I-70 corridor identified as areas who could benefit from workforce opportunities related to the highway’s expansion.
It’s part of an area stretching from Elyria-Swansea to DIA dubbed the “Corridor of Opportunity.” A representative from the Montbello office last week addressed community meeting to talk about their push to get more local residents into construction jobs.
Like WorkNow, Workforce Center in Montbello is trying to provide employment opportunities related to the highway expansion to local residents.
“It’s not only construction careers,” Gilmore said. “They’re trying to encourage small businesses, folks who might have a food truck or … home-based child care.”
Gilmore sees the programs as a chance for people living in underserved communities to stabilize their lives, especially in neighborhoods facing gentrification concerns. She believes it can help “mitigate displacement” in those areas.
“It’s definitely beneficial because it means people have a livable wage job that is going to enable them to deal with our rising costs of living in the city,” Gilmore said. “This really isn’t only a job, it’s a career, or it could be a career.”