Youthbuild: Building Opportunity for At-Risk Kids

10 Dec 2018

Minnesota’s high school graduation rates have risen to nearly 83 percent, an all-time high. But looking closer at the data reveals that some groups, such as students from low income families, students of color and those experiencing homelessness have significantly lower rates of success.

Youthbuild in Moorhead aims to proactively address the needs of youth who have dropped out or are at risk of not finishing school. The unique job training program gives young adults experience in the building trades and helps them develop basic skills to help them succeed later in life.

The main goal is to enable young adults to be self sufficient, according to Youthbuild Coordinator Dustin Doyle. Once they complete the program, they should have the skills, confidence and direction they need to succeed in their next stage of life, whether it be the workforce, continued technical training or higher education.

“Most of these kids haven’t had a job before, so the confidence boost they get from the training is the most impactful thing,” says Doyle. “We’re setting them up for their best chance of success whichever direction they decide go.”

The program serves about 15-20 young people each year between the ages of 16 and 24. It involves academic and hands on learning as well as mentoring. If participants are still attending school, the program works with the school system so that students get credit for their participation.

Youthbuild youthYouthbuild workers also get paid for their labor. The program is funded by the state, which requires that work projects are focused on the expansion or improvement of residential units for homeless and low income families.

Some students have previous construction experience from a parent or grandparent or have taken technical classes in school. But many are learning construction maintenance and trades related skills for the first time.

Youthbuild partners with the Clay County HRA. Teams of youth workers and their mentors go into the HRA’s vacated units to perform all types of repair and maintenance. Youth learn tasks such as patching wall holes and painting or replacing sinks and faucets. They also hang light fixtures, replace toilets and install door frames and doors.

A few days a year, Youthbuild workers assist Habitat for Humanity with home builds as well. These assignments typically involve learning more in depth construction skills such as framing and building window screens as well as installing fire barriers and moisture control siding.

Through the program, students, learn the basics of HVAC, plumbing, construction and engineering through both classroom and hands-on lab settings where they learn to solder, bend HVAC, and wire thermostats and light switches.

Students may or may not go into the trades once they’re done with Youthbuild. But Doyle points out that it’s important for youth to find out what they like but just as important to find out what they don’t like.

“Maybe they decide they wouldn’t want to be plumber, but they want to be electrician,” he explains. “Participants get valuable exposure to real careers and an idea of the potential money they can make without having to go to school for 4-6 years.”

Success Stories

One impressive success story involves an intelligent young man who quit school in his junior year and was generally lacking direction. He had never held a real job but got involved with Youthbuild and managed to complete his GED in five months. Doyle helped him with his resume and interview prep. A couple of months, later he secured a position with Canadian Pacific Railroad as a conductor, making $42 per hour.

Another Youthbuild participant graduated from high school and entered a program for plumbing. Even before he completed the training, he was offered a job. “Within 10 months of high school, he had a job,” says Doyle. “That demonstrates how in demand some of these occupations are.”