NWIC expands construction trades program to meet local need

Faced with an increasing number of local construction projects, Northwest Indian College (NWIC) and the Lummi Nation’s Tribal Employment Rights Organization (TERO) have teamed up to provide the community with more opportunities for advancement in the construction trades.

While NWIC has had a construction trades program on the books for the past two decades, the program has been offered in a limited capacity for periodic classes in recent years, said Fran Dodson, director of workforce development at NWIC. That’s in part because the college was without an adequate facility to accommodate the programs.

On Aug. 28, 2012, that changed – that’s when TERO signed an agreement stating the organization would partner with NWIC to rent a 7,500-square-foot facility at 1460 Slater Road. According to the agreement, TERO will pay to rent the facility and NWIC will pay all other costs, such as utilities, instruction and instructional and student materials.

NWIC will continue to hold classes in the Slater Road facility until the college is ready to build its own workforce education building.

In recent years, the need has increased for certified construction workers for Lummi Nation projects, Dodson said, and NWIC and TERO want to give community members the opportunity to meet that need.

“Because of the economy, construction trades jobs in the greater county are on the decline, but here at Lummi they are flourishing,” Dodson said. “At the same time, we have a pool of local residents who need jobs and in order to get good jobs they need training. We know, and TERO knows, this is the right time to take this kind of action to help this community.”

One estimate puts the amount of money being pumped into Lummi construction projects at approximately $70 million. That includes: construction of the new 120,000-square-foot Tribal Administration Center and the new Lummi Head Start building; expansion at NWIC and of the Silver Reef Casino, Hotel and Spa; sidewalk, road and sewer and water contracts.

Connie Martin, training coordinator for TERO, said she is also pleased with the arrangement because it means Lummi Tribal members will be trained and certified to work at Lummi Nation construction worksites.

“This year the Lummi Nation has been the largest construction employer in Whatcom County, with two major constructions projects: the Silver Reef Expansion and the new administration building,” Martin said. “We all want skilled and certified tribal laborers on the work sites of the Lummi Nation.” 

Martin also supports the agreement because NWIC will continue to add programs based on the types of jobs available in the community – that means workers will be able to return for additional certifications as the need arises, she said.

The programs offered will take students all the way to the Journeyman level, meaning they would be fully educated in their trade, Dodson said.

“The arrangement between NWIC and TERO will provide people with the opportunity to increase their skill levels so they can pursue good jobs that pay more than living wages,” Dodson said. “We are training people for careers, not just entry level jobs.”

The partnership also allows a unique opportunity to reach a particularly under-represented demographic among tribal colleges: Native males, NWIC President Justin Guillory said.

“I see this partnership as opening another door through which we can provide training opportunities to tribal members that will lead to successful employment,” Guillory said. “It is our hope that by expanding workforce education opportunities we might be able to reach a demographic that might not otherwise consider going to college.”

Workforce education is one goal laid out in NWIC’s strategic plan, Guillory said, and so the construction trades program certainly aligns with the college’s institutional priorities. 

“Our goal is to expand our workforce education programming for the community to be able to learn specific trades or skills that lead to employment,” Guillory said. “The arrangement with TERO is a wonderful example of how TERO and NWIC can to work together to accomplish this goal. I want to thank the TERO staff and Fran Dodson, in particular, for their diligence in bringing this to fruition.”  

A variety of industrial safety certification classes are already being held in the facility, including Forklift Driver, Boom Life and Scissor Lift, Refinery Safety Overview (RSO), Industrial First Aid, and Flagging. Construction crafts classes – including carpentry, ground work, and interior and exterior construction crafts – will start being held there after Oct. 1, 2012, which will give program instructors time to become certified by the National Center for Construction Education and Research, a national organization for standardized training and skills assessments with industry-recognized credentials.