Step Up: A New life for apprentices who want to belong

[Photo: Apprentice working and learning as part of the  Step-Up Program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida]
Step Up: A New life for apprentices who want to belong

At a small shop in Fort Lauderdale, young adults are learning a trade that not only earns them income but also makes them want to go to work every day. The kitchen cabinets they craft are sturdy and look great. They are made and installed with pride by thirty-two energetic apprentices from South Florida. The work is not just limited to cabinets. They also install tiles, replace drywall, do complete bathroom and kitchen renovations and paint apartments. They recently learned how to install high impact energy efficient windows and that has become their new production line.

They belong to the Step-Up Apprenticeship program from The Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority. Established 15 years ago to provide access to education, job skills and employment opportunities, Step-Up has many faces that represent the success of the program. There is Peggy, for instance, who started 14 years ago. Today, she supervises the paint team that is working expeditiously to deliver 20 recently renovated units to new tenants who can hardly wait to move into their new homes.

Eugene learned several construction skills and became the maintenance manager of Sunny Reach Apartments, a public housing complex with 129 units. There is Crystal, a quick learner who has mastered all what she has been taught. When Crystal decided to turn her life around from a past that got her into some trouble, her devotion went to carpentry. The program has given her a sense of accomplishment that has contributed to a more stable lifestyle. Step-Up is involved in all of the housing authority asset management and many of the routine capital improvement projects. Thus a portion of the money is derived from the services provided to the asset managers. From Recovery Act competitive grants, the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority was awarded $322,500 to increase energy efficiency in Sunny Reach Acres and $262,500 in Sailboat Bend. In sum, the Step-Up crew will be working in different areas of rehabilitation in a total of 425 units in the next few months.

Since last year their job requests have increased by more than 100%. According to the housing authority, last year they were hired to produce about 150 cabinets. With the new influx of Recovery Act and Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funds in the area, the team now has to fabricate and install approximately 200 kitchens and 400 bath vanities, and they are expecting some requests from tax credit properties.

Increased orders meant hiring five more apprentices. The cost to operate is about $33,000 per apprentice per year which includes wages, benefits, tools & equipment and supervision. They need to move fast and be willing to learn everything from landscaping to electricity. They now have a contract with Broward County to deliver 42 units of NSP multi-family housing that is expected to provide net revenues of about $200,000 annually to support the program.

With additional orders coming in through Recovery Act and other projects the Step Up Program and those that are trained and employed through it look to have a bright future.


Content Archived: January 7, 2014