Racine Family YMCA's First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship program: Building financial stability in Racine County

What challenge is the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship program designed to figure out/address?

The Racine Family YMCA's First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Training program prepares and assists individuals from underrepresented groups, particularly minorities and women, in the building and construction trades to secure family-sustaining careers.

Prospective program participants who have challenges, such as attaining a high school diploma or equivalency (GED), a requirement for entrance into the First Choice initiative, are supported through referrals to YWCA, Gateway Technical College or Racine County Workforce Solutions. These programs assist individuals in obtaining an equivalency certificate.

What does the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship program do (overarchingly and on a daily basis)?

The Racine Family YMCA's First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Training program is a partnership between participants, the Y and area employers that prepares individuals from diverse backgrounds for family-sustaining jobs in the construction industry. Because many of the participants have experienced hurdles or obstacles in reaching their career goals, the First Choice program helps them overcome barriers by providing individual mentoring, group training and instruction that leads to career and life success. 

The training takes place over six weeks with continuous case management, following an orientation for prospective participants and determination of eligibility. The six weeks are broken down as follows:

Weeks one and two: Classroom seminar, Essential Skills - Tools for Success.

Weeks three through six: Training on OSHA 10 & 30, hands-on workshop and other related activities including project materials and covering topics like Focus 4 on Safety, Fall Prevention, Silica Awareness and Cave-ins. Instructor observation also takes place during this time period for evaluation purposes and covers things like project management/remodeling/renovation, etc. 

Final Week: Testing at the technical college for apprenticeship qualification. Upon results, program management assists candidates with employment search in construction or manufacturing. 

What is the impact of the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship program?

Since the First Choice program began in 2005, the program has transformed the lives of more than one thousand participants and their families. Over the past 18 months, 98 individuals enrolled in and completed the First Choice training. Of those individuals, 71 secured employment in manufacturing, making a median wage of $18.27 per hour, and 10 secured employment in the craft industry with a median wage of $24.19 per hour plus benefits. First Choice continues to work with a small number of participants from this group who face challenges such as transportation barriers or finding reliable childcare. 

While the data surrounding the effectiveness of the program speaks for itself, there are many impactful stories from those who have been directly impacted by the First Choice program.

Carlos followed his passion to become a carpenter apprentice. He is currently two years in his apprenticeship with CG Schmidt. His employer calls him a model apprentice who is willing to learn, ask questions and is always very productive. Carlos also completed the three month Professional Safety Development training in 2021.  

Ricardo is a model pre-apprentice electrician. He completed the three-month Professional Safety Development training in addition to the six-week pre-apprenticeship program. He was named a valuable employee for many months at Westphal & Co., an electrical construction outfit during the construction of the Advocate Aurora Medical Center on Highway 20 and I-94. Ricardo worked on that development from ground breaking to completion. He is currently employed with Roman Electric. 

What does the future look like for the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship program? How do you envision the program changing or growing to remain impactful and relevant over the next 10 years?

The increase in the number of people of color in the construction industry demonstrates the program's success in assisting underrepresented populations. Individuals who have received/completed training have gone on to secure above ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) level employment. In Racine, growth in minority participation in construction-related apprenticeships has grown from three percent to five percent (Apprenticeship Standards, December 2021 dwd.wisconsin.gov/apprenticeship/industry/construction.htm). The First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship program is unique among workforce initiatives because mentorship occurs not only during the program but after graduation as well. This engagement provides invaluable insight, allowing the program to continue to adapt to evolving community needs. 

Over the next 10 years, it is the goal of the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship program to continue to increase the number of diverse applicants, including minorities and women, in the program.


Ahmad Qawi is the President/Chief Executive Officer for Racine Family YMCA.