Elijah Allen remembers his first days on the job with Building Value nearly three years ago. “It was kind of like kindergarten before going to school, they gave me a little extra know-how,” he says.
Twenty-year-old Elijah grew up on the west side of Cincinnati, graduating from Western Hills University High School. It was there he realized what he didn’t want to do. “I didn’t want a job sitting at a desk all day and not being productive,” Elijah recalls.
He knew he was good with his hands; he liked thinking, solving problems, and fixing things. But without trade school or knowing someone to shadow, his opportunities were limited. He bounced between temporary and retail jobs before discovering Building Value, a social enterprise of Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati.
Working with Building Value to deconstruct and salvage materials for reuse allowed him to not only be paid above minimum wage and learn new skills, but to also work toward a specific certification. It gave him a plan.
It also gave him a support system. Through the help of the crew and the provided mentoring, Elijah was learning something valuable: how to be a productive worker in construction and beyond. Workers at Building Value know that to move toward certification, they must be accountable and demonstrate self-motivation before moving into an official construction position.
Stanley Warrenhuffman, Building Value’s Workforce Development Specialist, meets with workers and evaluates their attendance, behavior, self-direction, appearance, safety on the job, and the quality of their work. Stanley says, “We evaluate them on that every two weeks. If a person can do these six things regularly they will probably be successful in working with a foreman and learning a skilled trade.”
Once Elijah had proven his dedication to learning and being a consistent worker, he graduated to a carpentry job on a construction site with the Uptown Workforce Development Initiative, a partnership of Messer Construction, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Easterseals, and Building Value.
By being immersed in a jobsite, Elijah began to understand the importance of stability and consistency. He says, “They taught me to be to work on time, and that if you’re not here you don’t get paid. Be responsible and respect their time and don’t be late.” While working in carpentry, though, he faced a significant hurdle. His physical size was not allowing him to meet some of the job’s demands.
Elijah says, “I’m a big guy. You got to be able to move on your feet, you got to be able to do the task and what they ask you to do quickly.” He began watching what he ate, “I didn’t give up and I did everything the best that I could,” he says, which made a significant difference in his physical abilities.
Elijah realized after several months on the job working in carpentry that he was also drawn to the electricians and the intricacy of their work. He and his mentors found a way to shift from one position to the other.
“Once I got to work with the electricians, it was exciting. With electric stuff, it was different every day. You got to figure things out.” And that extra challenge proved to be just what Elijah needed.
“I was with them for about two months and while I was there I really liked it and I actually applied to the apprenticeship.” He scored high on the entrance exam for the electrical apprenticeship and was accepted. After his first semester of taking classes with the program, he received the apprentice of the semester award, a major accomplishment for him and more proof that he’s moving in the right direction.
Elijah is well on his way to becoming a certified electrician which will allow him to become an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) labor union member and make a significant amount of money in a career that’s in high demand.
Besides a career path, Elijah says Building Value also gave him a new group of friends whom he continues to visit to this day, all of them checking in on, and invested in, his accomplishments. For Easterseals programs like Building Value, their greatest value is often not just career direction for someone like Elijah, but offering a community that believes in his future and that will continue to root for his success.
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