UMass Amherst, MGM Resorts, Contractors and Unions Join to Create Training and Construction Jobs for Urban Low-Wage Workers

AMHERST, Mass – A new jobs training program, unveiled July 17 by a wide-ranging community partnership, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, promises to open new job opportunities in the construction industry for low-wage workers in Springfield and Holyoke.

Dubbed “Community Works,” the program is funded with $262,000 from the Commonwealth Corporation, a non-profit workforce development agency. It aims to give low-wage workers in the two economically hard-hit communities access training for and access to apprenticeship programs in the trades, to become carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and other jobs in the construction industry.

The grant is due to be announced, along with other Commonwealth Corporation grants, by Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray at an event in Plymouth on Wednesday.

Among the key Community Works partners is MGM Resorts which hopes to build a major resort casino in Springfield. Other partners include 34 major contractors, unions, state and municipal agencies and non-profits. Primary partners are CareerPoint, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the Construction Institute, the Community Education Project, Western MassCOSH, and the Labor/Management Workplace Education Program (LMWEP) at UMass Amherst.

It has been clear that casino development would bring jobs and a need for a well-trained workforce, according to LMWEP director Joe Connolly.

“But we have also hoped to combine that need with training that would also provide pathways out of poverty, sustainable systemic change, grassroots ownership, and economic and social justice. That is what this partnership is planning to accomplish,” said Connolly. When casino developers joined the project, Community Works partners knew they were tapping into a growing need for more skilled workers in the region’s construction industry.

This not the first time that UMass Amherst’s LMWEP has attempted to open career opportunities and offer industry-recognized certifications for people historically under-represented in the construction industry – low-income and low-skilled women, people of color, and veterans.

Two years in the making, Community Works is modeled after Springfield Works, a pilot pre-apprenticeship program for low-income Springfield residents – all of whom were people of color, and 25 percent of whom were women.  The project resulted job placements, wages and employment rate for participants as 78-percent of young adult graduates accepted into joint apprenticeship programs (SEE FACT SHEET DETAILS BELOW).

At the same time, a LMWEP partnership is receiving another $370,000 from the Commonwealth Corporation to help low-wage child care workers in Holyoke earn education certification, and to conduct English language classes for person care attendants in Springfield.

Community Works Fact Sheet

Highlights of Community Works

  • Education leading to family-sustaining jobs in construction
  • An experienced, tested, highly collaborative partnership
  • Development of meaningful career pathways in the construction industry
  • Links to casino construction in western Massachusetts
  • 10 committed industry employers
  • Support from the organized building trades, and support from the Mass AFL-CIO
  • Support from the mayors of Springfield and Holyoke

Purpose of Community Works

  • Provide low-income and low-skilled Springfield and Holyoke residents—particularly minorities, women and veterans—access to family-sustaining careers in construction
  • Equip participants with industry-recognized certifications/credentials and prepare them to apply for, enter, and successfully complete a state registered, building trades apprenticeship program.
  • ​Create pathways among literacy providers, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs
  • ​Build economic vitality in Springfield and Holyoke

Problems Addressed by Community Works

  • Unemployment and poverty (the gateway cities of Springfield and Holyoke experience among the highest unemployment rates in the state)
  • Lack of career ladders
  • Lack of a broad-based coalition
  • Construction workforce demographics (an aging construction workforce and lack of racial and gender diversity in that labor force)

Community Works Track Record

Community Works is modeled after Springfield Works, a pilot pre-apprenticeship program for low-income Springfield residents – all of whom were people of color, and 25 percent were women.  Outcomes for that project follow.

  • Highest job placement rate in the state for pre-apprenticeships (105  percent of target)
  • Average hourly wage for employed participants increased from $10.36 to $17.39 (a 68 percent increase)
  • Weekly wage for employed participants increased to $543/week (a 125 percent increase)
  • 15 percent employment rate to 74 percent employment rate
  • 20 job placements (target was 19), including 14 into construction jobs
  • 78 percent of young adult graduates accepted into joint apprenticeship programs

Community Works Partners

Community Works partners include: Professional Drywall Construction, Inc., Intelligent Systems and Controls Contractors, Coghlin Electric, Fontaine Brothers, Consigli, Barr & Barr, Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, Inc., Mayor of Springfield, Mayor of Holyoke, Springfield Technical Community College, CareerPoint, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Pioneer Valley Building Trades Council, AFSCME Local 1776, New England Laborers Apprenticeship Program, New England Carpenters Training Fund, Springfield Electrical JATC, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 104 JATC, Heat & Frost Insulators Local 6, Operating Engineers Local 98, The Construction Institute, Community Education Project, Western MassCOSH, UMass Labor/Management Workplace Education, MGM Resorts

Classes for Child Care and Home Care Workers Expand UMass Reach

Early Childhood Educators Grant for Educational Certification

Another group of workers receiving recent grant support are child care workers in Holyoke. Commonwealth Corporation is funding a $370,000 grant, recently expanded from three to five years, which will run until June 2015. A partnership including New North Citizen’s Council, New Beginnings Child Care Center, UAW Local 2322, Valley Opportunity Council, SEIU Local 509, and UMass Labor-Management Workplace Education is educating child care workers at CareerPoint and at Valley Opportunity Council in Holyoke. Workers are learning early childhood education competencies, Childhood Development Associate certification, and English, reading, writing, and math in preparation for college placement. And through a Davis Foundation grant, testing fees for certification for Child Development Associate degrees are being offered.

English Language Classes for Personal Care Attendants

Labor/Management Workplace Education is also partnering with labor union SEIU Local 1199 to offer English classes for speakers of other languages in Springfield. Two classes, for 14 learners, were funded from March through June, and have just been extended through the summer.

Labor/Management Workplace Education: Who It Is, What It Does

For almost 27 years, Labor/Management Workplace Education has pioneered participatory worker education, redefining what is achievable when labor and management work together to:

  • Identify and own workplace needs of mutual concern
  • Develop and deliver courses designed for the workplace in the target areas of English, literacy, computers, communication, leadership, problem-solving, writing, teamwork, and diversity
  • Assess outcomes and effectiveness

Working with community partners since 1987, LMWEP has promoted a high-performing workforce through the education and training of frontline workers—administration and support staff, trades workers, custodians, professional, and technical workers. Initiatives include:

  • 141 grant awards, in addition to our core UMass Amherst/labor union contract funding
  • More than 40 workforce needs analyses across the state
  • More than 35 workplace education partnerships with over 125 partners
  • Helped launch the UMass Residential Life Wellness Program and Honors College tutoring initiative
  • Developed career ladder frameworks in consultation with Harvard University and UMass Boston
  • Partnered leadership of a Workplace Bullying initiative—including a survey, awareness, and educational campaign
  • Skill-building and education for nutritional workers in Pittsfield, Monson, and Lawrence through the MassTERI program, garnering national awards for curriculum design
  • Computer and adult education in the southern Hilltowns for underserved rural adults
  • Publication of Kindred Voices II, a collection of worker writing with the National Worker Writers Project

For more information contact Dr. Joseph Connolly at 413-545-1469, or email