Over the past eight weeks, a group of men and women have been building a different future for themselves. Now they get to build the world around them.
"We outfitted them for duty," said Paul Trudeau, director of education for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. "But it's truly them that are the success."
Seven people graduated from a carpentry training program on Thursday afternoon at a joyful and at times emotional ceremony in the Carpenters and Joiners Training Center on Miller Trunk Highway. The pilot program combined the efforts of the carpenters union and Soar Career Solutions to connect people who may not have had the chance up to this point to pursue a lucrative building career.
"We want to be more diverse, with people of color and women in the trades," said Jason Davis, a representative of the regional carpenters council. "With this program they're not blinded when they get into an apprenticeship program - they have the knowledge, the background."
So far, four people will walk out of graduation and onto job sites, and Soar and the union are both working to get the other three employed as well.
"Right now I'm working for Boldt," said Harden Henry, a Duluth Central High School graduate. "We're going to Grand Marais next week to work on a hospital."
APEX and the state Department of Labor and Industry paid for the program with a grant, and Davis is hopeful this type of training can grow and continue to find support in the coming years.
The state has been boosting apprenticeship programs, in trades as well as other growing occupations like health care, as workers are needed in an increasingly tight labor market.
For carpenters there has been more than enough work to go around as of late, and potentially more to come if major infrastructure projects come through as promised.
"There are so many opportunities with Baby Boomers retiring," Davis said. "It's there if you want it."
Rachel Wallace, who graduated from the program Thursday, knows she'll soon be the next to be called up.
"They're all going above and beyond to help us," she said.
Trudeau, who got choked up when describing his pride for the graduates, stressed that this was not an easy program, and the certificates they handed out should be hung on the wall, where they await apprenticeship and journeyman accolades to come.
"They're going to move on, they're going to be good people," he said during the ceremony. "They've changed their lives."
Just as important as the skills these seven dedicated themselves to learning were the attitudes they picked up.
"When you work, make sure you're not doing it for yourself but for everyone," graduate Tavareous Williams said.