New Skill Builders, an initiative created to encourage more minorities and women to enter the construction trades in Chicago, is celebrating its first graduate to earn union journeyman status - and an award-winning journeyman at that. Kelvin Houston is a journeyman pipefitter with Local 597 in Chicago. Houston enrolled in New Skill Builders after learning about the initiative from a friend at church.

“Work hard and weld. This is a career for me,” Houston said, adding that being a pipefitter fits perfectly with his passion of using his hands to “take nothing and make something out of it.” Houston works at the BP Refinery in Whiting, Ind.

“Kelvin is a prime example of someone who sets a goal and works hard to achieve it,” said Linda Hannah, director of New Skill Builders and consultant for MCA Chicago. “He is talented at his trade, dedicated to his craft, and we are so very proud and fortunate to have him as our first of what we hope will be many journeymen.”

New Skill Builders, launched in 2005, helps city residents to find employment and succeed in the construction industry. This is done through an intensive 13-week skills assessment and skill-building curriculum.

Through this workforce development program, participants gain greater proficiency in basic and intermediate math, reading and language skills, and other talents needed in the construction trades. Personal qualities, work ethics, and teamwork are encouraged and developed.

Also, New Skill Builders provides participants with the opportunity to learn basic construction skills such as blue print reading, measuring and power tool usage, to give them the foundation needed to compete in today’s workplace.

Fifty-five New Skill Builders graduates have gone on to apprenticeships. The organization is now actively seeking financial support to continue the six-year-old initiative, Hannah said.

Publication date:07/18/2011