On-site with unCommon Construction

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Aaron Frumin (R) and Desmond, one of unCommon Construction’s apprentices. Photo courtesy of Gigsy.

A couple of months ago, we introduced you to Aaron Frumin and unCommon Construction(uCC), a New Orleans-based nonprofit teaching high school students hands-on construction skills. The students have to apply and interview to be accepted into the program, which trains them to be collaborative, hard working leaders who know how to problem solve. They earn class credit and are paid for all this hard work, as they should be – they construct an entire house in just four months. uCC is just over a year old, but has already taken off with grants, accolades, and expanded programming, and it’s been incredible to watch.

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De’Shaun giving the cordless circular saw a workout. Photo courtesy of unCommon Construction.

The bottom line is that construction-based trades are on the short list of jobs that provide stability and permanence nowadays – they can’t be outsourced and will always be in demand on a local level. uCC is working to destigmatize vocational education and to provide a career path for high demand, high wage jobs. And, should these apprentices decide they don’t want to go into construction trades down the road, no problem, they’ve learned a tremendous amount of transferable skills and they’ve proven themselves to be leaders who can easily point to their accomplishments.

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Apprentice Destinee in the forefront of this pic, making some dust. These apprentices build an entire house in a semester. I know. Photo courtesy of Gigsy.

The ToolMade Project worked with Craftsman to donate a bunch of tools to the crew (see the end of the blog post for the list), and Aaron checked in earlier this week with some updates on how they were working out:

“We’ve been putting the tools to good use over the last month or so, and they don’t look nearly as shiny as they did when they first arrived. The nail gun has been especially awesome for baseboards and other interior trim…no more tripping over those pesky air hoses! And, the gun even shoots through the tough, cementitious Hardi Trim we used on the exterior…something our pneumatic guns even have trouble doing!”

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This is what a job site should look like: BUSY. Photo courtesy of Gigsy

The apprentices also seemed pretty happy with the loot. Here are some of their reactions when asked about the donation:

-“[The Cordless Circular Saw] is super light – I like it a lot more for plywood ’cause it’s easier to control. or, for a quick cut so you don’t need to mess with all the cords.” – Destinee, 12th Grade, 5-1/2″ circular saw (part of a combo kit)

-“Dang! That’s strong.” Noel, 11th Grade, using the brad nailer

– “It’s tight that they all work together so easy – you can use the alternate batteries & they last a while so you don’t have to wait for them to charge…The nail gun’s definitely the best one ’cause you can just make all your cuts, and then – really fast – just go through and shoot everything in without it getting too complicated.” Tahj, 10th grade, using the brad nailer

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Idallis on the circular saw. Photo courtesy of unCommon Construction.

Another reason this program is unique is that while the students’ project is, er, rather ambitious (AN ENTIRE HOUSE), that project is only seen as the tool used to get to the real end goal: well trained, well equipped apprentices. They are the end product that uCC uses to measure its success.

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Noel, nailing it. Photo courtesy of unCommon Construction.

For more updates on unCommon Construction – and there a whole lot of them nowadays – check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Please note that GiveNOLA Day is coming up on May 3rd, so please consider supporting this amazing crew as part of that event. Or, if you’re so inspired that you can’t wait until May 3rd, you can always give your time or some green!

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Photo courtesy of Gigsy

Tools donated to uCC:
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unCommon People: Bringing shop class and a new kind of workforce to New Orleans

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Aaron Frumin and the unCommon Construction crew. All of the incredible photographs featured in this post were taken by high school students. For more information on these talented photographers, visit http://gigsy.co.

In 2005, Aaron Frumin threw his hands up, dropped out of college and joined the Red Cross to respond to Hurricane Katrina. Once his extended term was up, he still wasn’t ready to return to a desk so he worked as a day laborer. He then went on to lead volunteers with AmeriCorps, finished school, and joined Teach for America. After basically joining every hands-on do-gooder organization in the country, it became clear that while he loved teaching, he hated the walls of a classroom.

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For the Spring 2016 session, 10 of the 25 applicants were female. YES.

So, as Aaron puts it, he decided to start a program that lets students build their own classroom walls. He recognized that there was a desperate need for skilled workers in Louisiana, and while the Department of Education has been trying to address this issue, those programs didn’t seem to be dealing with some of the core issues that are preventing people from stable employment. There are plenty of workforce training programs out there, but very few tackle the soft skills needed to really get and keep a job.

 

This is where Aaron’s unique combination of hands-on construction work and his understanding of systematic failures in education is invaluable and unique. He’s not throwing money at the problem–and he’ll surely corroborate the fact that he doesn’t have any money to throw–but instead, he digs in deeper to get to the root issues and starts from there. And speaking of money, his hardworking apprentices are paid for their time. As they should be. There are far too many exploitative training programs out there that benefit from the time and labor of those who need the money most.

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“These students can go into whatever specialized trades they want with this foundation, but I think it’s essential to start them with construction so they can have an immediate sense of accomplishment. Seeing what you’ve created is powerful.”

Aaron started unCommon Construction (uCC) just a year ago and is addressing this labor and education crisis in three ways:

  • Apprenticeships: Through after school and weekend sessions, high school students from diverse neighborhoods and schools build a house from start to finish over the course of four months. In this selective program, youth earn weekly pay and high school credit while developing transferrable job skills, and gaining valuable experience and leadership skills.
  • Pop-up Shop Class: To spark further interest in construction and involve more youth in our programs, unCommon Construction provides services to schools in the form of a “pop up” Shop Class. During these sessions, uCC staff facilitates hands-on, engaging construction experiences and classes for students on the school’s campus. Examples from previous sessions include birdhouses, sawhorses, benches, and flower boxes.
  • Post-Secondary Placement & Recruitment: uCC excels at providing the youth with high quality training and exposure to the construction industry and beyond. Through partnerships with local construction companies, training facilities and colleges, we provide youth with the opportunity to more successfully transition from school to the workforce and/or post-secondary education.

 

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This Spring, uCC is expanding to partner with four high schools. They’ve received 25 applications, including 10 girls and 15 boys ages 16-20. Five uCC alumni are returning for another semester. As you can see from the pictures, the students are into the work and are thoughtful about their time with the program. As Aaron explained, “You have to invest in your community. The students are the product, not the house. The house is just the curriculum.”

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The ToolMade Project can’t help but be partial to this student and his sentiments. For more on this crew, and for more photography from the incredible photography students that helped with this post, check back next month.