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Pre-Apprentices & Union Members Celebrate Union Construction Academy Graduation

Andy O’Brien
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PHOTO: Senate President Troy Jackson addresses the Union Construction Academy graduating class on Feb. 15.

The Union Construction Academy held its third graduation on Thursday, February 15 at the Abromson Center at the University of Southern Maine. Senate President Troy Jackson, Commissioner of Labor Laura Fortman, and University of Southern Maine Provost Dr. Georita Frierson were on hand with a large and lively crowd of friends, family, and Union members from around Maine who came to celebrate the accomplishments of the twenty pre-apprentices in the group.

Speaking about her experience in the training, Benny Bonabana, an asylum seeker from Uganda explained, “from diverse backgrounds to a unified force, the Union Construction Academy paved my path back into the construction industry, helping me to gain confidence and get back to work into the field I was trained in. I am immensely grateful for the patient guidance of instructors who bridged language barriers and diverse levels of construction knowledge.”

Wes Morean, who trekked from Harrison to Portland every day for the training said, “This program has been a great educational experience and will help us get ready for any union job… I haven’t had this much fun learning in a long time… I can’t wait to get out in the field and start working with a great group of people.”

Wes is one of several program graduates who are already out working after starting work with the Carpenters Union at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard earlier this week. Joao Kabunga has been working for two weeks at the Maine Medical Center site with the Laborers Union, and Mbikayi Kaniki started at a solar farm in Leeds earlier this week. Kamron King of Saco is looking forward to starting as a welder at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard soon. Other program graduates are currently working through applications and preparing for opportunities with other Building and Construction Trades Unions.

The Union Construction Academy program provides a pathway into Building and Construction Trades Unions for historically underrepresented groups, including women, people of color, individuals with disabilities, immigrants, and low-income individuals from around Maine. Over the course of the four and a half week training, participants went through an intensive training that prepared them for rewarding careers with Maine’s Building and Construction Trades Unions.

With instruction from the New England Laborers’ Training Academy team, they earned OSHA-10, and certifications in First-Aid, CPR, AED, Scaffolding, Flagging, and Asbestos Awareness. They also received hands-on training in line-and grade, construction math, and blueprint reading. They built concrete forms and hung drywall with the Carpenters’ Union, UBC Local 349, and learned beginning welding skills from our partners at the People’s Inclusive Welding.

UCA graduates.

The pre-apprentices also met with Union members from around Maine, who introduced them to pathways into careers as laborers, carpenters, ironworkers, plumbers and pipefitters, electricians, sheet metal workers, shipbuilders, and more. They practiced their interview skills, so that they can land in great apprenticeships, and they learned the work habits that will help them succeed once they’ve started in their new careers.

They learned about their rights as Union members, and the importance of safety, both in the short and long term. Perhaps most importantly, they learned about the meaning of solidarity, not only from their instructors, but also from one another, as they worked across their widely varying backgrounds and supported each other throughout the training.

We are always looking for new opportunities to share with our pre-apprentices so if you or Union would like to connect with this group or future cohorts, please reach out to UCA program director, Sam Boss.