Learning the tricks of the trade

Temple workers are mentoring students from YouthBuild Charter School.

Jamer Jackson (left) shadows university plumber Jason Noel as he repairs a pipe system. | COURTESY Betsy Manning
Jamer Jackson (left) shadows university plumber Jason Noel as he repairs a pipe system. | COURTESY Betsy Manning

Jamer Jackson became interested in the complexity of electrical work as a child, when he watched his uncle tinker with wiring around the house.

Now, Jackson, gets to use his passion for electrical work with the Philadelphia YouthBuild Charter School – an alternative form of schooling that includes a one-year program. Through it, students can receive a high school diploma, as well as vocational training in trade work, early education development, business administration, health care and customer service.

Temple recently formed a partnership with the national program YouthBuild, through which workers from Temple facilities mentor YouthBuild students, often on construction sites.

“[Students are] honing their skills at the same time that they are giving their time to the community,” said Sarah Peterson, a communications and development associate for YouthBuild.

In 1992, to combat the city’s low graduation rate, the Philadelphia chapter of YouthBuild opened its doors in South Philly.

In six-week intervals, students switch between basic educational courses in a classroom setting to training on work sites.

Since 2015, students in the vocational interval of the YouthBuild program visit Temple once a week to receive mentorship in their field from Temple facilities workers.

The YouthBuild model started in New York in the 1970s as a fundamental program for young adults – ages 18 to 21 – who have been disconnected from school and trade employment.

“It is not just getting a GED, but also rebuilding and learning marketing processes,” Peterson said.

Some students apply the construction skills they learn by serving in the community and creating homes that will be sold to low-income, first-time buyers.

The students receive hands-on experience as they work on building sites. While overseen and advised by Temple maintenance workers, students are involved in the entire construction process, which includes handling tools, demolition, reading the blueprints, floor preparation and more.

The YouthBuild school, where the education and training is housed, is located south of Temple on Broad Street.

YouthBuild had previously been in contact with Beverly Coleman, Temple’s assistant vice president for community relations and economic development.

“The interest in YouthBuild grew out of a discussion about how the university could contribute to increasing access to the building trades for minorities and women,” Coleman said.

In the beginning, some members of Temple facilities management came out to the work sites where students were helping in the construction of homes to volunteer and build student’s skills in the trade.

Students from YouthBuild visit Temple once a week to learn more from mentors about electrical, plumbing, carpentry and general mechanic work and to see first-hand the training that goes into each specific trade.

Bill Acker, a Temple facility maintenance worker, said Temple faculty benefits from the program just as much as the students.

“I enjoy watching them grow and succeed in what they are trying to learn,” Acker said. “Also, I enjoy their enthusiasm and … willingness to learn,” Acker said.

Sean Ounan, assistant director of operations and maintenance at Temple, played an integral role in finding the right workers to mentor the students.

Ounan asked around the work area for volunteers to mentor the students.

“What that did for us is get us guys that were interested in helping answer some of these questions of kids that are interested in the trade world,” Ounan said.

Students who work on construction sites are exposed to basic, but important ideas of punctuality, Ounan said. Jackson said this type of training benefits him most.

“[YouthBuild] helped me learn what I wanted to do and what I don’t like about the trades,” Jackson said. “I learned that if I wanted to be successful in construction, I have  to wake up early everyday and always be prepared.”

The program is considered a pilot to help both Temple and YouthBuild see what works best for students. Coleman said the partnership has since proved very important for students and facilities employees.

“Through their exposure to specific trades, students gain a better understanding of the required skills to be successful,” Coleman said.

Emily Scott can be reached at emily.ivy.scott@temple.edu.

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