The 11 graduates of the inaugural pre-apprenticeship program presented their instructor, Bob Harman (center), with a handmade, engraved frame displaying photos of them in training classes. With them is assistant instructor Cathy Banuchi.

Wearing cap and gowns fashionably accessorized with new construction boots, 11 young men graduated from the inaugural class of the OUC-sponsored pre-apprenticeship training program on Oct. 27, 2021, with good-paying jobs waiting for them.

The graduates had completed the 420-hour Vocational Training Partnership, preparing them to enter such trade fields as construction, carpentry, plumbing, electrical and building maintenance. Each earned a certificate of completion, a construction industry NCCER card and a job offer from an area employer. Conducted by the nonprofit iBuild Central Florida, the program followed the standardized training and credentialing curricula set by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). To obtain a card, each trainee had to complete a series of 70-plus assessments.

Held at Frontine Outreach Center, site of the training program, the graduation ceremony (click here to watch video) marked a transformation in the pre-apprenticeship trainees’ lives. All were offered full-time, entry level jobs that pay more than $30,000 a year and provide benefits, paid apprenticeship training classes and advancement opportunities in their chosen fields. OUC hired one of the graduates, Vale Price, as a Warehouse Associate III.

Guest speaker Jenise Osani (right), Vice President of Marketing and New Products at OUC, called the graduates “an impressive group of young men” and encouraged them to “embrace the challenge” they have before them.

Graduate Joshua Pierre, 25, said he intends to do just that. He was hired by Competitive Edge Partners & Consulting as an apprentice electrician, starting at $16 an hour. It’s the highest paying job he’s ever had, and in three years, if he completes apprenticeship training, he could be making $30 an hour or more as a journeyman electrician.

“I want to own my own electrician business someday,” he said.

Debbie Rodriguez, CEO/owner of Competitive Edge and president of iBuild, was involved in the inaugural class from start to finish. She said she saw almost half of the original 20 trainees drop out, leaving those who were the “most committed to succeed.”

“This program has transformed them,” Rodriguez said of the 11 who completed the program.

Certificate of completion in hand, Joshua Pierre receives congratulations from iBuild team members.

OUC contributed $35,000 to fund the pre-apprenticeship initiative as part of an ongoing investment in its Empowerment 4 the Future Zone, a disadvantaged area encompassing the 32805 ZIP code (I-4 west to John Young Parkway and Colonial Drive south to Kaley Avenue). Headed by employees, the Empowerment Zone Taskforce seeks to help revitalize the community by leveraging OUC’s resources and partnerships to enhance educational opportunities, health and wellness programs, jobs training and sustainable housing.

Alandus Sims (right), OUC’s Project Manager of Strategic Community Partnerships, said OUC is committed to supporting three more pre-apprenticeship training classes.

“We’re simply providing an opportunity for people to learn skills that have strong earning and career advancement potential,” Sims said. “If these 11 graduates work as hard in their new jobs as they did in class they will achieve career advancement and financial stability, which are the goals of this program.”