Training Program Benefits Community, Supplies Work Crews at Los Angeles Int’l

Training Program Benefits Community, Supplies Work Crews at Los Angeles Int’l
Victoria Soukup
Published in: 

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is helping supply construction workers for its massive multi-billion dollar capital improvement project with a free development program that recruits, trains and provides union apprenticeships for local residents.

As of early October, 41 of 55 students who graduated from the HireLAX Apprenticeship Readiness Program were placed into construction careers. Even though 75% is a strong placement rate, airport officials expect it to improve in the future. With two classes complete, the third is already underway.  

The training provided is in construction trades such as electrical, carpentry, plumbing, sheet metal, drywall and flooring—all critical elements for upcoming construction projects at LAX. The program’s goal is to maximize the economic impact of airport construction by hiring residents from areas surrounding LAX and certain zip codes throughout Los Angeles. 


Project: Construction Trades Training Program

Location: Los Angeles Int’l Airport 

Airport Owner/Operator: Los Angeles World Airports 

Program Name: HireLAX Apprenticeship Readiness Program 

Goal: Recruit, train & employ area residents for careers in construction trades; supply workers for airport & other area projects

Program Design & Implementation: The Parsons Corp. 

Cost: Collaboratively paid for by LAWA, Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Los Angeles Southwest College & the city/county workforce support services system

Partners: Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council; Los Angeles Community College District-Los Angeles Trade Technical College & Los Angeles Southwest College; city of Los Angeles; county of Los Angeles; Flintridge Center, 2nd Call

Debut: Fall 2017

Program Participants: 55 (as of mid Oct.)

Subsequent Hires: 41 (as of mid Oct.)

Of Note: Participants receive support with issues such as homelessness & lack of child care, transportation & adequate food that present barriers to employment

“Our mission is to serve the world, connecting people, places and cultures,” says Samson Mengistu, chief operating officer of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which operates LAX. “One of the ways that we serve the world is by focusing on our local communities and ensuring that we are a good neighbor and include the local community in our work. Our goal for the HireLAX program is to train and prepare individuals from Los Angeles and the LAX area for careers in the construction trades, so they can have a hand in building the LAX of the future.”

The program began in fall 2017 with an eight-week, 240-hour class. A second class was held in spring 2018, and a third class began this September. The Parsons Corp. designed and implemented the program as part of its contract to administer LAWA’s Project Labor Agreement for the LAX capital improvement program. Employing at least 30% local craft workers is one of the program’s goals. LAWA is currently exceeding that goal on current projects, reports Daniel Sloan, vice president of labor relations for Parsons.

“Our mission is to maximize the economic impact of the LAX multibillion-dollar capital improvement program through the inclusion of local workers who are reflective of the diversity of Los Angeles,” says Sloan. “Not only is the program delivering a better world and airport by transforming the lives of LAX community members and their families, but it is also increasing the supply of local skilled craft labor to meet the significant market demand in the Los Angeles area.”

Grassroots Effort

The program takes a strategic approach by including trade unions, local community colleges and social support agencies. Organizers recruit potential participants through a grassroots campaign that leverages social media and flyers posted in stores, churches and high schools near LAX.

Those interested in the program are required to attend a 45-minute orientation to see if the program is a “good fit” for them. Next, potential students undergo one-on-one short interviews with 15 program leaders. Participants are selected based on interview results, diversity and place of residence. Applicants must be at least 17½ years old and live in the LAX high impact area (15 zip codes immediately surrounding the airport) or the city of Los Angeles.

A total of 429 individuals attended orientation for the first three classes, and 358 completed the interview process. Program administrators then selected 102 to participate. 

Accepted students enroll in the Los Angeles Community College District, which provides direct support via two of its colleges. Los Angeles Southwest College supplies free rent for classroom instruction and outdoor space for hands-on learning. The Los Angeles Trade Technical College, which has more than 90 years of construction training experience, provides instructors with existing grant money.

The Multi-Craft Core Curriculum of the Building Trades includes classes in OSHA-10 and first aid certification, hands-on projects and field trips, employment development skills and physical fitness/conditioning training.

Removing Barriers

The outside support that participants receive is what really makes the program unique, notes Sloan. Students who enroll in the program must register with case management and support services personnel who help participants overcome personal challenges they might face during training and apprenticeships. Issues range from homelessness and inadequate food/nutrition to lack of child care and transportation.

“We not only want to teach the participants about construction, but we also need to provide them with support to overcome any employment barriers they may have. And they often do have challenges,” he says. “We need to provide them with services to help them succeed.”

After successfully completing the eight-week course, students are offered career placement assistance. “That’s the fun part, because that’s when we get to open that door for them and give them the first opportunity for a construction career,” Sloan remarks. “We bring in the contractors who work at LAWA and at other major construction projects and get to play career matchmaker for our graduates.”

LAWA’s Mengistu says the biggest challenge is that interest in the program far exceeds its capacity. “Our class size is around 30, and we have had more than 100 individuals apply for and attend orientation for each class. To ensure that these other individuals are not left without options, we work with our partners to connect interested individuals who are not chosen for our classes to other programs that provide workforce and construction training.”

Organizers are pleased with the results thus far and are impressed with the skills, ability and commitment of participants, reports Mengistu. 

The demographic breakdown of the most recent class showcases the opportunities being offered to the community:

• 100% live in Los Angeles or the LAX area

• 66% are residents of the LAX high impact area

• 31% are women

• 53% are African-American

• 44% are Hispanic/Latino

• 56% have previous involvement with the criminal justice system

• 1 student is homeless 

• 1 student is a veteran

Sloan acknowledges that not every student has been placed into a job yet, and a few don’t finish the program. “But for the most part, we think we give them a much better shot at having a long-term construction career than they otherwise would have had,” he comments. 

Partnerships are pivotal to the program’s success. Key partners include Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Los Angeles Southwest College, the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, and the city/county of Los Angeles. Flintridge Center and 2nd Call are the non-profit organizations that provide case management, life skills and support services.

Mengistu highlights the program’s educational impact: “On the organizational side, we have put a curriculum together that includes everything from workplace safety to physical education, as well as life management. It’s a very well-rounded program that is very good at achieving its goals, which is a testament to our partners’ constant engagement and the number of students who have been hired and are creating a career for themselves in the construction trades in L.A.”

Civic Benefits

Ron Miller, executive secretary of the Building and Construction Trades Council, says HireLAX helps the entire community as well as the airport. The program is timely, because the area is experiencing a building boom at the same its workforce is aging.

“We need to have new people coming into our programs continuously, and this program supplies part of that effort,” Miller says. “We have a high placement rate into our apprenticeship programs, and HireLAX acts as a pipeline to create local opportunities for the airport. Agreements like this provide local hire opportunities for local community members for apprenticeships that we provide—and they don’t pay anything for their education.”

To help alleviate local workforce demands, Parsons plans to conduct at least three or four classes each year, with each yielding 30 to 35 graduates. “It is our goal that the majority of graduates be placed into construction careers as union apprentices at LAX or other nearby major construction projects,” says Sloan.

Parsons executives credit LAX and LAWA for engaging in the “complex partnership” between public agencies, non-profits, labor organizations and businesses. “This would not have been possible without the strong leadership and direction from LAWA Chief Executive Officer Deborah Flint and Chief Operating Officer Samson Mengistu, as well as the Board of Airport Commissioners,” says Sloan. “They have set the bar high for us to ensure that inclusion and reflectivity are core values of the LAWA capital improvement program, and the HireLAX Apprenticeship Readiness Program is a direct result of their leadership.”

Rashmi Menon, vice president – aviation western regional manager with Parsons, echoes those comments. “LAWA is a critical economic engine in the Los Angeles area driving growth through job opportunities for both businesses as well as residents,” Menon says. “And key to this is the innovative HireLAX program, implemented by LAWA, which will continue to provide opportunities for Angelenos to build Los Angeles.”

Mengistu notes that some benefits of the program might not be immediately evident but are still important to the overall community. “With the help of our partners, we are helping empower a workforce that is competent, adaptable and ready to meet the goal of delivering a gold standard airport,” he says. “Once they go through an apprenticeship and get onto one of our projects, they will gain an invaluable experience of working in an aviation setting and learning the unique needs that airports have when it comes to building infrastructure. Having that specialized knowledge makes them even more employable by contractors wherever they go.”

There’s also a unique interpersonal benefit associated with including local residents in LAX projects. “For program graduates, there is a sense of genuine pride that comes with embarking on a career and being trained for work that will help support their families and create a tangible difference in their community,” explains Mengistu.

One graduate may have said it best: “It’s the ability to tell your child, ‘I built that’—and that’s not something everyone gets to do.”  


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