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Kentucky Announces Program to Attract Women, Minority Construction Workers for Bridges Project

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and transportation officials have announced a new program called "Bridges to Opportunities” meant to help women and minority construction workers participate in the Ohio River Bridges Project.

The estimated $1.9 million program will help place some skilled workers in jobs, but it will also place some entering the sector into apprenticeships and other into a program or school that can lead to future construction work.“Participants will be enrolled in existing education and training programs offered by Jefferson Community and Technical College, local labor unions and other institutions," Beshear says.Walsh Construction—the contractor group hired to design and build Kentucky’s new I-65 Bridge and rework Spaghetti Junction—must meet certain federal requirements related to minority and disadvantaged businesses.This means Walsh must hire at least 15 percent minority and 10 percent female workers for the Bridges Project. The team must also subcontract 8 percent out of the work to disadvantaged businesses. If the goals are not met, the Transportation Cabinet will levy financial penalties.Project manager Arik Quam says in the past  Walsh has never had a problem meeting its goals.But Quam also estimates around 75 percent of the work will be done by skilled workers.“Everybody out there building the bridges won’t be a brand new person who has never built a bridge before. It just doesn’t work like that. That’s not what we need. That’s not what anybody needs to get the job done.Kentucky officials couldn't say which of the three levels, or tracks, in the "Bridges to Opportunities" program would see the most action. But they say the program will also lay ground work for construction opportunities beyond the Bridges Project. Per a statement released by Beshear's office, the program will feature three training tracks: ·        Track 1 – Ready for Employment. Designed for already skilled journeymen. Participants will be directed to opportunities befitting their identified skilled trade or discipline. ·        Track 2 – Skilled Laborer OJT/Apprenticeship. Instruction combines classroom, hands-on and on-the-job training as heavy equipment operators, carpenters, laborers, iron workers, electricians and truck drivers, among others. ·        Track 3 – Short- or Long-Term Certificate Program. Participants can earn a certificate in construction technology that is equivalent to three hours of college credit and can be completed in six months or less. Or they can enroll in an undergraduate certificate program that is transferable to the Kentucky Community and Technical College System as credit toward an associate’s degree or to a four-year institution toward a bachelor’s degree. Officials say they’d like to maintain the job and training program for as long as necessary and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock says as long as the program is viable and produces positive results in terms of hiring, it would likely continue.The number of workers that will be employed for the Bridges Project is still unknown but Beshear says it will be in the thousands.

Quam says he anticipates construction to begin aggressively this summer.The application period for Bridges to Opportunities begins April 1.