Ricky Tomlin (left) and Za’travious Seawright sample some of the new tools that were purchased for the Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program classes at Parramore Kidz Zone.

“I can’t wait to start building stuff,” Ricky Tomlin proclaimed as he surveyed shelves stocked with brand-new hand and power tools, tool belts and work boots. Tomlin didn’t have to wait long, as he and Za’travious Seawright were tasked with assembling a workbench for a new compound miter saw.

Tomlin, 18, and Seawright, 20, are among the students learning skills in welding, electrical, construction and plumbing in the OUC-sponsored Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program. Taught by instructors with iBuild Central Florida, the workforce development project is an OUC Empowerment Zone initiative that seeks to revitalize the disadvantaged area encompassing the 32805 ZIP Code (I-4 west to John Young Parkway and Colonial Drive south to Kaley Avenue).

“I’m ready to go to work now,” said Tomlin, who still has a way to go before he completes the 420-hour class he attends at Parramore Kidz Zone (PKZ) in downtown Orlando.

iBuild instructor Cathy Banuchi (left) coaches David Gittems (center) and Shaun Brown on how to use a hand saw.

The program teaches the standardized training and credentialing curricula set by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). Students must complete a series of 70-plus assessments to earn an NCCER card, their gateway to earning a good-paying, entry-level job in a trade field. All 11 members of the inaugural class, who graduated in October 2021, landed full-time jobs paying more than $30,000 a year, plus benefits and paid apprenticeship training classes to help them with career advancement.

About 40 students initially enrolled in the 2022-23 program, with participants attending classes at PKZ and West Oaks Academy. Because of the growth in enrollment, OUC increased its support for the program to $85,000 from $35,000, with partners iBuild contributing $25,000 and equipment distributor Wesco adding $10,000.

“Interest in the Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program exceeded our expectations, so we expanded it to three classes at two locations to better accommodate participants and their schedules,” said Alandus Sims, who oversees the program as OUC’s Project Manager of Strategic Community Partnerships. “Our goals for this program are to create career opportunities, prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, and raise median incomes for the community. The young people who enroll in this program have a chance to learn skills that are always in demand.”

The West Oaks Academy class is made up of some juniors and seniors attending the private Christian school in west Orlando. They meet with instructor Matt English for more than an hour on most school days. Meanwhile, PKZ hosts two classes, from 3 to 6 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m., on Mondays and Wednesdays, with instructor Cathy Banuchi leading participants ranging in age from 16 to 26.

PKZ class member Gabriel Henfield, 26, said the course will help him become a better civil engineer, a career he hopes to enter after graduating from the University of Central Florida.

“The skills I’m learning here will help me when I’m on a jobsite and I need to jump in and get something done,” he said.

Dorian Chow (left) and Alex Carwell are among the participants in the Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program class at West Oaks Academy.