Project JumpStart Turns 10

Ally D'Ovidio

A decade of changing lives, and changing Baltimore

By Rita Colorito

In 2006, before Maryland and the nation plunged into a steep recession, the future looked bright. The construction industry was booming in the Baltimore Metro area. Johns Hopkins broke ground on its Science and Technology Park, part of a larger, $850 million, 80-acre East Baltimore Development Initiative (EBDI) aimed at redeveloping and revitalizing East Baltimore. Two years later, Johns Hopkins Hospital began a $1.2 billion expansion.

Despite these promising endeavors, there was a deep concern that city residents would not directly benefit from the economic opportunities created. At the same time, the construction industry found itself short of qualified workers to fulfill the demands of the 15-year project.

So, when EBDI put out a request for proposals from social service programs aimed at ensuring Baltimore citizens got a piece of the economic pie, ABC Baltimore, in conjunction with the Job Opportunities Task Force (JOTF), aimed to bridge the divide by creating Project JumpStart, an 87-hour pre-apprenticeship training and placement program.

In January, JumpStart will celebrate its tenth anniversary. And since it began, 650 Baltimore residents have enrolled, 80 percent have graduated, and 75 percent have been placed into high-wage construction careers. ABC provides the training and a dedicated job placement director.

Why it works

JumpStart’s $25 class-attendance stipend gets students interested. But there’s a catch: They only get paid if they show up on time, one of the strict rules designed to mimic the working world. The motto of the program staff? Train like you work. Potential students must pass a vigorous math test to even qualify for a spot in the program.

Classwork includes construction math, safety instruction, and hands-on, entry-level training in basic carpentry, electrical and plumbing. To ensure students remain engaged, each classroom has three instructors. Because construction firms won’t hire someone without a driver’s license and vehicle, Project Jumpstart also works with the non-profit Vehicles for Change to help graduates qualify for a donated, low-cost car or truck. Graduates also receive a set of hand tools in their chosen trade, valued at $250.

The most valuable component of JumpStart, however, comes from teaching students the soft skills that get them a job and help them keep it, says Jack Diehl, JumpStart’s lead instructor, who developed JumpStart’s training component.

“Lack of soft skills are why people have lost jobs over the years,” says Diehl. “We focus on core principles to help them be successful. They have to be there every day, on time. They have to get along with everyone on the job. They have to accept responsibility and be reliable. And you can tell the guys who just get it.”

After all the training, JumpStart focuses on job placement.

“If you talk to people about workforce development, far too many programs, sadly, don’t get people jobs,” says Mike Henderson, president of ABC Baltimore. “The only people benefiting are those that get the training dollars. And when you ask them, ¬Ëœwhat about jobs,’ they look at you like you have three heads.”

“What’s great about JumpStart is that we find the opportunity for them. We reach out to employers to hire them to participate and grow,” says Jeffrey Hargrave, president of Mahogany, Inc., who also serves as chairman of ABC Baltimore.

“All too often in the past, we’ve seen projects like Inner Harbor East go up with no real economic impact for Baltimore City residents. The people who live around that community were not given a lot of opportunities to participate, and in part, that was because of lack of training,” explains Hargrave, who credits JumpStart with increasing diversity in Baltimore’s construction workforce. “Contractors, even if they are required to hire local residents, those residents have to have prior experience. And without organizations like JumpStart they will not get that experience.”

Matt Bolyard, a project executive with Southway Builders, says that while Baltimore City’s local hiring mandates might give a JumpStart graduate that all-important first job, they can also be somewhat shortsighted. Local hiring mandates, no matter how well intentioned, he said, tend to focus on the short-term economic impact and could be missing the bigger picture.

“JumpStart is not just another ¬Ëœtransitional’ program,” Bolyard explains. “Instead, the program acts as a springboard to help individuals realize their full potential. JumpStart not only graduates candidates who are ready to work, but its graduates want to work. That’s a huge distinction.”

Filling the skilled-work gap

To date, 150 different employers have hired JumpStart graduates, with more than 50 of those firms hiring more than one graduate.

Miles Electric in Baltimore is one of those repeat employers, hiring two students from the first graduating class. Since then the electrical contractor has added a total of 10 JumpStart graduates to its crew, eight of whom still work for Miles as either apprentices or journeymen.

“The reason I continue to use Project JumpStart to add apprentices to our work force is the fact that all of them show up for their interviews with enthusiasm, with solid work ethics and a strong desire to succeed,” says Miles president Michael Burt.

Over the last several years, Tissa Enterprises in Frederick has hired five JumpStart graduates as apprentices, several now full journeymen. “They’ve worked hard and they are seeing they can make a difference in their own lives,” says Frank Murphy, president of the electrical services firm. “What we’re seeing from JumpStart graduates is that they are a viable option to bring into the construction industry. They are worth taking the chance on.”

Hargrave says he’s proud to provide a second chance to those who might not otherwise get it. “Often times, JumpStart graduates had a problem when they were younger, or they might’ve had something on their application that prevented them from being hired,” he says. His specialty millwork firm now has two journeyman carpenters who entered the business through JumpStart, and several others who are in Mahogany’s carpentry apprenticeship program.

“Coming out of JumpStart, we’re vouching for them,” says Hargrave. “We’re telling employers that because of their JumpStart training, you can hire individuals to come in and train them to be an electrician or plumber. Otherwise it’s difficult to just bring someone into the building trades who doesn’t have any knowledge of what it’s like to be on a construction site.”

Success Stories

“What I hear a lot from graduates and employers is that this program changes lives,” says Kate McShane, JumpStart’s director of job placement. “One of our biggest JumpStart supporters, Southway Builders, has said when they bring a JumpStart graduate to the table, they’re bringing an ace to the table.” McShane says that many graduates believe so much in Project JumpStart ¬â€ and the fact it results in jobs ¬â€ that they refer their friends and family members to it.

Recent graduate Robert Barnes is one such believer. He’s not only referred friends, but even complete strangers, to the program. One of his friends is currently enrolled. “Anyone that I care about, that I want to see doing good, I tell them about JumpStart,” says Barnes. “I was just telling a friend, it’s still unreal to me because within months my life has completely changed.” [CRAIG: THIS WOULD BE A GOOD TAKE-OUT]

Barnes, whose fiancée spotted a JumpStart poster at an MTA stop and encouraged him to apply, just graduated in August. One month later, he started working for Lewis Contractors as a general laborer. He hopes to make it into their apprenticeship program.

He credits Jack Diehl and JumpStart’s core principles with changing his life. “That got me prepared in every aspect on what I needed to be,” says Barnes. “When it came time for my interview with Lewis Contractors, I applied all the stuff that Mr. Jack taught me and before I could even get home, the employer called and told me I’d be starting soon.

“Before JumpStart, I was just trying to find my way. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know which way to go,” says Barnes, who was unemployed before the program. His fiancée recently gave birth to their daughter, and, for the first time, Barnes is optimistic about his future. “To this day, I come home from work and think this is too good to be true.”

Antoine Boykins is another JumpStart success story. When he entered JumpStart, Boykins was in his late 20s, living in a halfway house, and working as a manager at McDonalds, making $12,000 to $15,000 a year, living paycheck to paycheck. After JumpStart, he was hired by Scaffold Resource and, five years later, is now a field foreman and yard supervisor.

“The opportunities JumpStart has afforded me have changed my life,” says Boykins, who graduated first in his class. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.” [ANOTHER GOOD TAKE-OUT CANDIDATE]

As a jobsite manager for Scaffold Resource, Boykins has hired JumpStart graduates, experiencing firsthand the difference JumpStart training makes to those applying for a construction job. Boykins now also serves as a JumpStart instructor on Baltimore’s west side, telling new students his story and teaching them those core principles.

“I see guys every day, especially when I was doing the hiring for my company, not prepared to do interviews, not understanding the value of being punctual,” says Boykins. “I see guys who don’t make it and don’t last because they lack those intangibles. JumpStart isn’t selling a dream so much as it’s teaching a process. It’s not just a jumpstart in the construction industry, it’s a jumpstart in life.”

Project JumpStart now averages 50 construction job placements a year, and McShane says the program hopes eventually to place 100 students a year as it doubles its case load. “So far we’re on pace,” she says.

JumpStart’s Work Ahead

While Maryland’s unemployment rate today is now better than its pre-recession rate ¬â€ 5.1 percent according to the latest figures from September, the same as the national rate ¬â€ Baltimore City continues to struggle with high unemployment, at 7.4 percent.

The outlook remains worse for the city’s youth, with those aged 20 to 24 facing a 22 percent unemployment rate, according to the latest five-year U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey. Among black men in that age range, a staggering 37 percent remain unemployed, nearly four times the national average of 10 percent for young white men. The bleak employment outlook for Baltimore residents, and a nationwide shortage of skilled construction workers, remains a call to action for JumpStart. The riots that tore apart the city after the death of Freddie Gray also galvanized ABC’s commitment to Project JumpStart and the larger community, says Henderson.

“After the recent riots, we were talking about how as an organization we should respond,” says Henderson. “We had some pretty far flung, ambitious ideas. But in the end, we decided to stick with what we do best. And that is workforce development.”

To benefit even more of Maryland, Project JumpStart expanded to Prince George’s County this summer, with a pilot class completed in July. ABC’s Metro Washington Chapter provides the job training and ABC Baltimore delivers job placement assistance. Since August, 21 Prince George’s residents have enrolled, 17 have graduated, and six graduates have been placed into full-time employment. The program expects to achieve 75 percent job placement by 2016.

ABC Baltimore leaders also spent the summer speaking with officials in the Hogan Administration and the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, as well as business leaders from the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, not only to educate them about Project JumpStart but also to start the conversation about what the business community can do to help champion workforce development and mentoring.

“The Hogan Administration has been wonderfully supportive,” says Henderson, “as has MOED.”

Henderson says ABC wants to leverage the lessons learned with JumpStart to play a role in influencing how funders, government officials and businesses evaluate these kinds of programs. “There’s too much at stake,” he says, “to continue to continue to throw money at workforce development programs that don’t achieve the purpose for which they were created, at that is to create jobs.”

 

Rita Colorito is a freelance writer for Building Baltimore.