California Workforce Association highlights CityBuild, a pipeline to high-wage construction jobs — a national model and example of the work being done by local labor boards across the state • Sacramento News & Review

San Francisco has long been known as a place where local government and community leaders are willing to experiment to solve social problems.

An example of this is CityBuild, an academy that trains low-income or underrepresented local residents for jobs in the construction industry. He serves on the city’s Office of Labor and Economic Development, the city’s labor council, which is a member of the California Workforce Association in Sacramento.

CityBuild was established in 2006 under then Mayor Gavin Newsom, and successive mayors have also left their mark.

“The Mayor of London Breed has made CityBuild a centerpiece of his State of the City address (March 9),” said Joshua Arce, director of workforce development for San Francisco. In fact, Breed featured three graduates from his new Mission Rock Training Academy, a special program that brings women into the construction trades and is funded by the San Francisco Giants.

“The power of CityBuild is in its partnerships, and that’s also what makes it unique,” says Arce, who actually got involved with CityBuild over a decade ago when he was working as a community advocate. “In the beginning, the placement rates were not what they are today. There were a lot of trained graduates, but they weren’t getting jobs.

What changed? Arce says he and others dove into the data and realized that a “good faith” hiring policy wasn’t enough. So in 2010, another creative San Francisco solution was devised: the Local Hire Ordinance, which requires that 30% of work on city-funded projects be done by residents of the community.

“If an entrepreneur approaches us (now) because they’re struggling to achieve their goals, we say, ‘Lucky you, because we have these CityBuild graduates ready to go,'” Arce says.


Since its inception, CityBuild has trained 1,400 graduates from diverse backgrounds: 30% Black, 19% Latinx, 36% Asian-Pacific Islander, and 12% female. The 26 jobs in the industry include carpentry, drywall, painting and flooring, as well as sheet metal, plumbing and electrical.

The program has also maintained its partnership with groups that can sometimes be competing forces in the Bay Area, says Rudy Gonzales, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council. “They keep community organizations at the table with local government and link that to the city college and the BCTC. They all play very different roles, but all are key players,” he says.

Another strength of CityBuild is its alignment with national training standards. “Because they use the North American Building Unions Core MC3 curriculum, CityBuild is the model and is certified by our offices,” says Gonzales.

This vocational training also attracts local employers, such as Swinerton, a commercial construction company responsible for a wide range of construction projects in Northern California. “Swinerton enjoys a long-standing partnership with CityBuild – we love working with them to put the local community to work,” says Lori Dunn-Guion, Vice President and Division Manager. “Swinerton benefits greatly from hiring its graduates. It’s a win-win when we can identify open opportunities that CityBuild can fill. »

Additional Support

But it’s not just the job training that helps CityBuild’s often disadvantaged candidates succeed. “Wraparound services are provided by a non-profit organization – Mission Hiring Hall – and they do all the recruiting, life skills assessment, to prepare them for employment, to prepare them for the CityBuild academy” , explains Ken Nim, director of CityBuild. This includes helping job seekers get a valid driver’s license, get outstanding tickets off their file, get a GED, or improve their English skills.

Once they’re at the academy, CityBuild itself steps in with gas cards or transit passes, even money for food or utilities, because the pre-learning program was traditionally unpaid. “But in September (2021), the mayor announced a stipend of $1,000/month for the three months,” says Nim, mitigating the need for interns to work nights to make ends meet.

CityBuild also provides safety equipment, boots, uniforms and PPE. “When they graduate, they get all the basic tools they need to start a job, and we pay their union dues,” he adds.

Graduates who get union jobs start at $27/hour, the established living wage in the Bay Area. “It’s a boom for the regional economy,” says Nim. And that boom will only increase when federal dollars hit the infrastructure bill, which CityBuild is pivoting for. “We expect jobs involving rail, wind and other green energy.”

Next steps

The end result: The CityBuild program is nationally recognized. “(Graduates) can go anywhere in the country with their certification,” Nim says. “And we are a national role model. The cities of Denver, Las Vegas, Sparks, Reno, Carson City and Syracuse all came to see our program. Last summer, Syracuse launched SyracuseBuild.

What do stakeholders think of the progress? “For me, initially as an attorney for Local 261…this program is really close to my heart,” says Arce. “We want to get more resources, expand the program, align with the justice system, because there are a lot of people who deserve the chance to change their lives.”

CityBuild is a great example of the work done by local labor boards across the state of California over the past few decades. Programs built through strategic partnerships that meet the needs of industry and community residents are at the heart of their work. The CWA member San Francisco Office of Labor and Economic Development is just one of 45 local labor councils that have been delivering results like this for more than two decades. To learn more about YOUR local workforce council, visit

Andrew B. Reiter