Gotham Gazette

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The Role New York's Nonprofits Play in Construction Safety

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Construction safety rally at City Hall (photo: @Local79NYC) 

If it seems like there has been more attention on construction safety in the city recently, it’s for good reason. According to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health, between 2011 and 2015 the number of construction incidents that resulted in injury or death more than tripled. In the last four months, five workers have been killed on job sites, including one last weekend. It goes without saying that each of these preventable deaths is a tragedy that should push us into action.

A solution many have proposed is better job training for our city’s construction workforce. The City Council is currently debating construction safety legislation that would require anyone working on a large job site to first complete an apprenticeship program. The specifics of whether this legislation will pass and how it would be implemented in New York are unclear, particularly since the de Blasio administration does not support it.

But one thing that is clear – and has largely been ignored – is the important role that nonprofits have always played in training our city’s workforce, with a heavy focus on New York’s lowest income neighborhoods.

Along these lines, NYCHA leaders are right to speak out for expanding training opportunities for tenants looking to start careers in construction. Speaking from my own personal experience leading a workforce training program that has graduated nearly 100 low-income New Yorkers from all across the city, I can say that when it comes to job training, a modest investment can go a long way.

We spend seven weeks teaching students the basic skills necessary to start careers in construction – everything from the very basics of working on a job site to handling electric wiring and operating power tools. The majority of our trainees, who mostly come from NYCHA and other subsidized housing, are able to secure employment shortly upon graduating, in part because of our direct entry agreement with some of the city’s biggest trade unions.

What’s more, the trainees hone their skills on the types of projects that are often neglected, such as long-overdue Sandy recovery efforts in Staten Island and accessibility modifications on homes in Brooklyn and Queens occupied by low-income seniors who can’t afford to install ramps and lifts on their own. It’s a win-win for communities all across the city.

We are far from the only nonprofit with a holistic approach to job training and an emphasis on uplifting low-income communities. Other nonprofits, like Green City Force, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), and Pathways 2 Apprenticeship, have developed programs specifically tailored for low-income New Yorkers seeking jobs. In fact, nonprofits have always played a leading role in creating a more diverse workforce, supporting communities often overlooked when it comes to hiring.

So while City Council debates legislation to curb construction accidents, I urge them to consider supporting and partnering with nonprofits that are already pursuing this work nimbly and effectively.

Kimberly George is Executive Director of Rebuilding Together NYC.

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