Community Dividend

Labor lessons learned in straw bale projects

Straw bale projects provide training and construction experience to local, unskilled workers interested in the construction trades.

Published October 1, 1998  |  October 1998 issue

Women's Opportunity and Resource Development (WORD) recognizes that building affordable, energy-efficient housing is only one component of creating strong communities.

To help create economic opportunities, the project provided training and construction experience to local, unskilled workers interested in the construction trades. The organization remains committed to offering these opportunities to unskilled and disadvantaged people, but has learned some valuable lessons about implementing a job-training program.

Ren Essene of WORD said the Missoula project experienced unanticipated costs resulting from work-readiness issues created by the use of unpaid, unskilled labor. After a two-week preparatory course offered by WORD, two women on public assistance joined the construction crew for hands-on training. Unfortunately, they were unable to finish their work on the construction project for personal reasons. WORD then had to pay the contractor to finish the job.

In the future, WORD would like to provide improved financial incentives and living wages for all on-site trainees to ensure ongoing participation.

WORD also emphasized the benefits of having a caseworker available to provide general employment and life management support to unskilled workers or those coming off public assistance. According to Essene, the availability of a caseworker is essential to the success of on-site training because it allows the contractor to focus exclusively on construction issues.

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