Edward Chapman wanted a new start in life and the chance to work hard, earn a decent wage, and take care of a family. But a good opportunity was hard to find since his release from prison nine years ago.
Then Edward heard about Southwest Solutions’ Earn + Learn program that trains Detroiters for careers in the skilled trades of HVAC or Electrical work. The program is free and participants also receive a stipend. Edward knew this was a chance he needed to seize, and he enrolled in the class that started last December.
“It was something new and different, and when you have no work history and you’re suddenly learning new things, it’s exciting,” said Edward, 46.
Edward is one of 17 Detroiters who compose our latest Earn + Learn skilled trades graduating class. Six of the students, including Edward, received their 608 Universal (HVAC) certification. Eleven received their NEC Residential (Electrical) certification. The class began with four weeks of work readiness and WorkKeys instruction, which was done virtually because of COVID protocols. This was followed by hands-on, pre-apprenticeship training, again with COVID protocols in place, at the Detroit Training Institute of Technology and at our YouthBuild training facility.
After graduation, Edward landed a job with the City of Detroit doing graffiti removal. Although the job doesn’t use his HVAC skills, Edward believes that taking the course was instrumental in his obtaining the position.
“It was an excellent program and it helped me build skills, confidence and my resume to join the workforce,” Edward said. “The job with the City lets me get my foot in the door, and then other doors will open in time, and I’ll be able to use the skills I’ve learned eventually.”
After Edward decided to enroll in Earn + Learn, he informed his brother David Richbow, who then joined Edward in the class. David rehabs vacant houses, which he then sells or rents out. David had wanted to add certified HVAC skills to his repertoire for some time.
“When Edward told me that the class is free, I knew I had to take advantage of this opportunity,” said David, 53. “I’m so glad I did. The teacher had so much knowledge to share with us, and the class was very educational.”
Like Edward and David, Jennifer Vargas graduated in the last class, but in the Electrical field. Jennifer is a single mother who works part-time in sales.
“I took the course to get the skills I need to start a career and get better employment,” said Jennifer, 34. “My dream is to work toward a journeyman’s license and then one day start my own business.”
Sylvester Davis also obtained his Electrical certification in the class with Jennifer. When he enrolled in the training, Sylvester had been laid off from his factory job with GM, which is retooling the plant to make electrical vehicles. While he was in training, he was recommended by the teacher for a job opening with a local electrical contractor company. Sylvester continues to work there.
“I’m gaining so much experience, and I have so many options ahead of me,” said Sylvester, 38. “When GM calls me back, I can use my electrical skills to advance my position at the plant. I also will continue to work at the electrical company. I’m hoping to start my own business in the future. The training program was a blessing in so many ways. In fact, I recommended it to three people who then enrolled in the class that’s going on now.”
Our current Earn + Learn skilled-trades cohort has 18 participants. If you’re a Detroit resident interested in the opportunity to enroll in a future class, please fill out our online interest form and we will get back to you quickly. For additional questions about the program, contact Jordan at 313-297-0095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.