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James Mitchell

Long before construction begins on a new arena for the Red Wings — the cornerstone of $1.8 billion worth of community development projects — hiring managers embarked on a campaign that will put hundreds of new apprentices on a career path via District Detroit.

Per agreement between developers and the City of Detroit in early 2014 when the future arena property was transferred to the Downtown Development Authority, a majority of the project’s thousands of skilled trade jobs will go to city residents, and workforce agencies had a strategy for making the most of the opportunities for both established and new apprentices.

“We began to prepare a pipeline of individuals that would be qualified and ready to go,” said Pamela Moore, president and CEO of Detroit Employment Solutions Corp

Tasked with finding qualified workers for the project – a 50-block vision of businesses, parks and restaurants surrounding a new home for the Red Wings – Moore said “We directed interested residents top our District Detroit website to assess their skills to continue to build the D-RAP pipeline.”

The Detroit Registered Apprenticeship Program (D-RAP) – an initiative of DESC, the city’s Michigan Works! Agency – has for nearly three years conducted applicant screenings, provided industry-guided training in deficient areas, and placed 126 participants to date.

DESC “brought the unions to the table early on,” Moore said, and compiled checklists of qualifications needed for job placement. Pre-apprenticeship training includes math, blueprint reading, safety and guidance from trades as to what to expect on a job site.

“A majority of our applicants don’t have training and credentials but are interested in the opportunity,” Moore said.

The partnership between Olympia Development of Michigan and DESC began with a Career Opportunity Expo in October attended by about 3,500 prospective workers. District Detroit’s planners emphasized from the beginning a goal of boosting city employment. In a statement announcing the project in 2014, Ilitch Holdings President and CEO Christopher Ilitch said the opportunities provided could offer both a job and long-term career prospects.

“Our goal for this transformative project is to hire Detroiters … while helping to develop a pipeline of residents ready for future construction projects,” he said at the time.

Early indications are that the strategy is working, with a growing awareness among hiring managers that a pool exists of pre-qualified, ready-to-go employees.

“Screening resources are a key part of the plan,” said Doug Diggs, managing director of consulting firm Heritage Realty Services. “We’re now getting calls from contractors and suppliers looking for workers. The beauty of this is it’s not a one-shot construction job, it’s a great career.”

Moore said that a majority of the jobs will be earmarked for current union members, but she expects to put “hundreds” of new apprentices on the clock this summer from when District Detroit digs in, with several high-profile projects slated to follow suit.

“The work is back,” Moore said. “There’s the M-1 rail line, the governor wants a bridge to Canada, and we hear about new projects every day that need electricians, carpenters, engineers. These are high-paying careers, and we’re making sure people understand the commitment and expectation involved.

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