By Nancy Harty

CHICAGO (CBS) — A training program in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood aims to teach students more than just the basics of construction.

About 20 young men and women sat in office chairs at the Project HOOD Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center at 63rd and King Drive, listening to Manny Rodriguez explain the 12-week basic carpentry class he teaches through the Illinois chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors.

Rodriguez said the class goes beyond the nuts and bolts of construction.

“We can’t just say, ‘Okay, I’m going to teach you how to frame out a wall, and I’m going to get you a job. No. The folks have a lot of barriers to employment. So you have to address how to work. How do you show up? How do you handle confrontation?” he said.

Rodriguez said students don’t need a high school diploma, or even a clean record, to enroll in the program; just a strong work ethic, and interest in learning.

“They don’t have to, by any means, do they need to be a finished product to get into this program. Part of what we’re going to be doing is helping round out the edges, and polish them,” he said.

Much of the learning will be at Project HOOD’s new leadership center. Project HOOD executive director Rev. Corey Brooks said they’re trying to provide opportunity to a group that doesn’t see much of it.

“So they can go into the trades, so that they can change their lives, so they can go in a new direction,” Brooks said.

Rodriguez said the need for qualified construction workers is great.

“We have 70 contractors; all different plumbers, HVAC, electrical, carpenters, [general contractors]; with over 100 job orders, and they’re calling us every day to ask for workers, and I can’t send them anybody,” he said.

Chalres Harris, a potential student for the construction basics class, said it seems like a great opportunity to learn new skills.

“For a lot of young youth that I’ve seen out here, there’s a lot of opportunity for them. I know, for me, I may not go to a company. My skills will probably go back to my family, but for others they can push them anywhere, and the sky’s the limit,” he said.

The free class has been funded in part by a federal grant. The next class begins on Feb. 5.

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