Building Skills New York nonprofit helps local construction workers prepare for reopening

A virtual Building Skills NY woorkshop
Courtesy of Building Skills NY

Nonprofit Building Skills New York, which finds construction jobs for the underemployed and unemployed, has continued to train people during the pandemic and is gearing up for the restarting of the economy.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is starting to advance statewide reopening efforts and construction is one of the first industries to be a part of it. This is a relief for many people as they begin returning to work after being shuttered home for the past couple months.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but as things get reactivated we’re looking to activate the pipeline,” said David Meade, executive director of Building Skills.

Meade explained that Buildings Skills has been a major part in ensuring communities are ready by using their model to help restore the jobs that got put on hiatus during the initial phase of the crisis.

While they are preparing people for the next steps, not everything has been easy. With the exception of their clients who are working on affordable housing projects, which were deemed essential, the majority were laid off.

People have been dealing with things like depression and lost wages. Meade and his staff helped them get benefits, apply for unemployment and checked in on their well being. Meade noted during these trying times, mental health is equally as important as work.

“How do we stay engaged and stay on top of the workers,” Meade said.

They have also adapted and used technology to their advantage. The staff created virtual training for their clients, who are required to have a certain amount of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certification hours by September.

There are two hours of drug and alcohol awareness and eight for fall protection.

Additionally, they have worked with their network to make job placements on essential construction sites throughout the pandemic.

Being in phase 1 for the reopening plan, Meade noted that not only will there be many people eager to get back to work, but numerous people from other sectors who were laid off will come to them for employment.

“It looks to me like things will reopen,” he said. “I think there will be a huge spike in jobs. We’ll be busier than ever.”

In his three years as executive director, this is the hardest thing he has had to deal with. While it was an adjustment working from home, he and his staff adapted. They have done recruitment and interviews virtually and are amped to get going.

“It was challenging,” he recalled. “I was really proud of my team the way we worked remotely.”