Seven young men from Detroit’s Randolph Technical School are among the team of workers helping RAM Construction Services with masonry and brick repairs at Michigan Central Station, which Ford Motor Company purchased last summer.
The students, seniors or recent graduates of the vocational skills school, received formal trade apprenticeships thanks to a new program launched this summer by Ford, its lead contractors RAM and Christman-Brinker, the city of Detroit, and local trade unions.
Launched in June, the goal of the program is to help fill a void in the availability of skilled trades people in Detroit and create opportunities for paying careers for local residents. Among the issues developers and contractors in the city face is the lack of specialized trade workers such as masons, brick layers, plumbers and electricians.
This year 12 high school students at Randolph were given the opportunity to work on masonry projects around the city during the summer, including Michigan Central Station and parking decks at Wayne State University.
The apprentices are paid an hourly wage and are mentored by other construction employees, receiving one-on-one guidance on work and life skills. The program could grow to as many as 40 students in the coming years and be expanded to other trades.
“A big part of our project is masonry work and we’ve worked with our partners to design a unique program that starts in the high schools and gets kids exposed to the trades,” says Richard Bardelli, Ford’s construction manager at Michigan Central Station. “From there they get a pathway to an apprenticeship with a first rate contractor like RAM that will really grow their skills.”
Ford selected RAM as the masonry contractor to help restore the train station’s 15-story tower and ground floor to how it looked in 1913.
The apprentices, including 18-year-old former Randolph student Maguel Ligon, will spend the next two years cleaning, repointing and replacing the damaged terracotta, limestone and brick that make up the station’s exterior.
“I always wanted to work on construction but I didn’t know how to do it.” says Ligon, who joined the summer program and lives about 10 minutes away from the station on Detroit’s east side. “Everybody thinks you have to go to college after school but there are so many other things you can do. I’m ready to learn.”
Robert Mazur, president of RAM, says the apprentice program is an investment in Detroit’s youth, developed from a “dream” to bring more 11th and 12th grade students into the skilled trades and help with the plethora of projects under construction across the city.
“Currently there are not enough people who live in Detroit with the skills we need for projects like the train station,” says Mazur, whose company has also done restoration work at the Book Tower in downtown Detroit and Wayne State University. “We’re happy to give long term career opportunities to these students and give them the tools to succeed.”
Ford began the three-phase restoration project nearly a year ago as part of its plan to make Michigan Central Station the centerpiece of a new innovation hub in Corktown that will bring together employees and other partners, entrepreneurs and businesses to create future mobility solutions.
Bardelli points out that highly visible projects like the restoration of the long-abandoned train station can be a magnet to draw young people into the apprentice program.
“Kids don’t really understand what trade skills like masonry work is but they’ve heard about the train station,” he says. “We can use it as a platform to bring students in, and then they find out that these are really great paying jobs, highly skilled jobs and important jobs.”
For apprentices like Maguel Ligon, helping restore Michigan Central Station is a big deal and creates a sense of hometown pride.
“I’m really excited to start working at the station,” he says. “We’re cleaning things up and helping change people’s perceptions of the city. We’re helping bring the city back.”