Building Paths to the Middle Class

Editor’s note: The following guest post is authored by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

As a young man, I followed my father’s footsteps and became a laborer. Later, when I became the General Agent of the Boston Building Trades, I could see clearly that women and people of color were underrepresented in the trades. In partnership with other community stakeholders, I created the Building Pathways pre-apprenticeship program to create more opportunities like those my father and I enjoyed, because I know that apprenticeship is one of the most effective paths for people looking to reach the middle class.

Building Pathways is a 6-week program that introduces women and people of color to careers in the building trades, followed by a guaranteed placement into an apprenticeship program. The intensive program is a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on occupational skills training, with a strong emphasis on career readiness. To date, 103 people have graduated and been placed in 17 trades.

Tyiesha ThompsonOne of them is Tyiesha Thompson, a resident of South Boston and a single mother. When I met her, Tyiesha was receiving transitional assistance and looking for work. She needed more than a job to take care of her family; she needed a career. When she found a flyer for the program in the hallway of her housing development, she knew it would be the right course for her.

Tyiesha is now going into her third year of apprenticeship with the Heating and Frost Insulators. Not only is she learning more about the technical aspects of her trade, she is able to take care of her family and has stopped receiving public assistance. This fall her son will be attending his first year of college at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to study biology. She is confident that with her retirement benefits, she will not have to worry about who will take care of her in old age.

The key to the success of Building Pathways is that we created partnerships with the Boston Housing Authority and the participating trade unions. It was their steadfast belief that by creating this pre-apprenticeship pipeline, they could attract qualified and dedicated members of their trade, while providing an opportunity for low-income women and people of color to build careers. Leaders across the country can use this model to look for opportunities to partner with other public, private and nonprofit organizations to find mutually beneficial solutions.

As I look across the Boston skyline, I see cranes in every direction. It is an exciting time − Boston is growing smartly at a rapid rate, as we are creating housing and office towers and opening new shops and restaurants. Behind all of these cranes and new shiny developments, however, I also see the hardworking people who come to the job site every day. People like my father and Tyiesha Thompson. These good construction jobs are helping middle class families put food on the table, purchase homes, and send their children to school. By working together, we can ensure a strong middle class and put the American Dream in reach for people across the country.

Working with the Obama administration on initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, and with other urban American mayors on the Cities of Opportunity Task Force, we are looking at ways to scale this program, and transfer it to other industries. We ask you to help us with this. By creating a strong 21st-century workforce and by creating good jobs, we will grow the middle class. And a strong  middle class builds a strong country.

For more information on the Building Pathways program, call 617-282-2242.


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  1. Karl Jaensch says:

    This strategy addresses what’s the problem with funding “shovel-ready” projects in order to stimulate the economy: The people who do the “shovel-ready” work are specialized tradespeople (heavy-equipment operators, industrial construction workers, electicians, stellworkers, etc.) who often are not majorly affected by economic downturns — and if they have been affected were previously very well compensated and therefore are likely to have resources to fall back on. We need to make more people into specialized tradespeople so more members of our society are insulated from future economic downturns, which inevitably will come, and will spread the stimulative economic benefits of “shovel ready” projects which we will inevitably fund to try to goose the economy into all sectors of our society.

  2. Dear Sir
    I need help with process of how my non profit Skills Initiative International will help our Youth in Richmond Virginia,

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