Why Apprenticeships Matter

Apprentice Training

At the heart of Ecotone is our goal is improve community wellness through engaging in community building activities. In conjunction with our various public works projects, one of our core pillars of community building is apprenticeship programming.

The apprenticeship model combines free apprenticeship programming with paid on-the-job training and experiential learning on public works projects. The goal is to equip the apprentice with hands-on experience and a familiarity with how to approach building in their communities. As a result, upon graduation from a program, apprentices have confidence and skills in carpentry as well as the soft skills needed to approach community building with optimism, courage and intensity.

This model is particularly effective because it follows a “earn-while-you-learn” format, making apprenticeships an accessible option for everyone. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “The apprenticeship model is leading the way in preparing American workers to compete in today’s economy.”

However, our goal is for graduates to be ready not only to secure gainful employment, but also to become agents of change in their own communities. The unique strength of this program is that it gives participants the opportunity to build their social communities while gaining hands-on experience building improved infrastructure in their own physical communities. As a result, graduates are better able to design and build the communities that they want to live in while also building deeper ties to and understanding the needs of their neighbors.

Ecotone’s apprenticeship program was born out of founder Craig Desmond’s desire to empower people to be agents of change in their own communities.

The Birth of Ecotone Builds

Through years of experience working in construction and with various organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, The Doe Fund, and Green City Force, Desmond realized that he could combine his passions for carpentry, youth workforce development, and community building through creating his own apprenticeship program.

In 2014, Desmond launched a pilot of what is today the formal apprenticeship training program. Under Desmond’s leadership, a team of 8 apprentices spent 16 Saturdays training on basic carpentry skills.

Reflecting on this experience, Desmond says, “We developed deeper bonds and connections by spending time together. Nurturing young people by developing their skills and leveling up their confidence was a positive experience for everyone involved. We were able to organize resources for building a shed in a community garden, which extended the training through the fall. In total, we worked for 36 consecutive Saturdays in 2014, and although the investment of time, effort, tools, and hard work was more than initially expected, the relationships and the outcomes for everyone involved were worth it many times over.”

For several of the participants, this experience was life changing. Upon completing the training, one apprentice went on to enroll in an architecture program at City College. Others made dramatic changes to their career trajectories, including working full-time with Desmond to extend their training. Ecotone’s program was even recognized by city council member Mathieu Eugene, who represented the Brooklyn district where the training took place. To hear about this experience directly from participants, check out this video.

Building off the success of the pilot program, Desmond’s team went on to help design and build a large public garden space for the NYC Housing Authority in Far Rockaway. Through a collaboration with Green City Force, he was able to hire two more full-time apprentices, and together they worked with a team of 50 youth to complete a large planting project in the garden.

Over the past ten years, Desmond has been developing the apprenticeship program in some form or fashion. In the summer of 2020, he is applying all of the lessons he has learned along the way to create the strongest, most robust program yet.

All Ecotone apprenticeship training are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. The program is open to everyone of all ages, genders, races, creeds, and so forth. Anyone who is willing to commit to attending all of the sessions, being on time, and bringing positive energy is welcome to join.

Ecotone continues to adapt the apprenticeship program as we move towards a fuller version of our vision of being a powerful force for NYC community building and workforce development.

To learn more about the apprenticeship, send us a message!

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