FTIUM Embraces Mental Health First Aid Courses

TW: suicide, substance abuse

At Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM), students are offered access to various programs like Drywall Finishing, Commercial Painting, and Glazing to fit the unique career needs of each student. But it’s not only about trades training.

As part of our Helping Hands initiative, the FTIUM takes actionable steps to provide mental health illness and substance use disorder awareness and education while promoting access to Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits offered by TEAM through District Council 82.

Construction workers have the second-highest suicide and substance use disorder rate in any industry. In fact, data shows that construction workers are three times more likely to take their own life than the rest of the population. Understanding this gravity,  we worked with the IUPAT, Finishing First, and mental health professionals from Recovery Resources to deliver Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to all employees of the FTIUM. This vital training best prepares first aiders to respond to students experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis.

Staff are trained on recognizing mental health warning signs and the most effective ways to step in to help proactively. The staff at FTIUM acknowledges that to have a truly holistic training model, we need to address students’ needs beyond proper safety training and certifications.

FTIUM strives to create a positive and supportive school environment. Students are encouraged to talk openly about their struggles to ensure that mental health is no longer a taboo topic in their future workplaces. By promoting an open, empathetic culture at school, those behaviors will transfer to their workplaces and foster a stigma-free environment for generations of future coworkers.

As COVID-19 continues to weigh heavily on our community and many people are out of work or isolated at home, mental health awareness and training are more important than ever. FTIUM’s Change the Culture of Construction Program raises awareness for issues like substance abuse, suicide, and more within the finishing trades industry.

FTIUM will continue to provide resources like these courses to ensure all of our students feel supported at our facilities and into their careers. We will keep talking about it, educating one another on it, and de-stigmatizing it. There is nothing more important than our health – mental and physical. The training center may be a space to work, but they are also a safe space to ask for help if you need it.

How diversity and inclusion in the building trades will boost our economy

If you walked onto a job site in Minneapolis in 2011, you’d see a vast majority of white men aged from about thirty to sixty years old. About a decade ago, that status quo was only beginning to be challenged. The economy wasn’t in a great place after the recession, and it was severely impacting the construction industry. Infrastructure projects were stalled, costing taxpayers billions annually. An underground economy was flourishing where employers routinely misclassified workers as independent contractors instead of employees – a practice that specifically prays on non-white workers. The problems were clear as day, but steps weren’t being proactively taken to mitigate them.

Fast forward to 2020: the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest received a generous grant from the Minnesota Department of Labor to foster diversity and inclusion in our apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship participants shot up to 47.9 percent women and minorities. Those same job sites that were mostly white men in 2011 became more diverse, and the benefits were immediately clear.

When a concerted effort was put into training young women and individuals from diverse backgrounds, we predicted that we’d start to engage people from communities that we hadn’t before.

What we didn’t predict is the almost immediate shift in culture at our training facility and on local job sites. Instructors became more invested in the success of all their students, even during the onset of the pandemic. They ramped up communication to ensure students stayed engaged and on track; and students started taking more initiative to get advanced certificates.

Employers started talking more about the importance of diversity and inclusion on their job sites, and the benefits it brings for the mental wellbeing of their employees. We started receiving more engagement from parents of high schoolers and school counselors who were previously more likely to guide students toward traditional four-year colleges. 

A sense of true solidarity was shown when apprentices noticed their colleagues struggling in the workplace, and they began to reach out more to provide emotional support. Though that was what we had all wanted and needed for the past four years, we could never have predicted the impact the conscious decision to become more inclusive would have.

Though we still can’t predict all of the effects these positive efforts will have on our industry, we can make informed guesses thanks to ongoing research by the McKinsey Institute. Based on a year-long research study that focused on the correlation between companies’ profitability and diversity, we can predict that employers who prioritize diversity in their hiring practices are likely to see increased cash flow by about 200 percent over about three years. Apprentices’ performances will more than likely continue to improve. If our employers continue to hire from our diverse program, those employees are about 35 percent more likely to outperform their peers who work at less diverse companies.

One of the most common arguments about diversity in the building trades is that “women don’t want to work these jobs,” or even worse, “construction is a man’s job.” To put it simply, women hadn’t been included in recruitment efforts until very recently. When FTIUM began to specifically reach out to young women and young women of color, they started enrolling in our programs and quickly climbing the ranks in their respective trades. By diversifying our applicant pool and taking a competency-based approach to enrollment in 2020, more women began building their careers in the finishing trades industry.

The women members of the IUPAT experience no pay gap thanks to worker protections that were hard won by consistent, collective actions by tens of thousands of union members. This continues to influence contractors across the country; If those contractors want to earn respect from the public and get the biggest jobs in their regions, they have to first eliminate the pay gap. Efforts like these are what fuels our fire to continue recruiting and training individuals from diverse backgrounds.

The toughest pill to swallow for those of us who work in the building trades industry is that we have been stifling our economic growth for decades by not putting the effort into diversifying our workforce. It’s time for the building trades industry to collectively take a giant step forward and ensure our future will foster economic growth opportunities for employers and workers of all backgrounds. Our economy, our culture, and the future of all of our communities depend on it.

APEX Worker Readiness Graduation, Fall 2020

On Friday, October 30th, 2020, 16 students graduated from the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM) 5-week Career Readiness Program, a program that prepares students for entry into a Finishing Trades Apprenticeship. The completion of this challenging program, alone, is a clear sign of their commitment to the pursuit of their new craft careers.

This program is funded in part by a $90,000 APEX Construction Career Readiness Training grant the FTIUM received through the MN Dept. of Labor and Industry. The grant funding goal is to address Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities by increasing female and minority participation in registered apprenticeships.

The students were thrilled when Chet’s Shoes brought their expertise and mobile boot truck onsite and personally-fitted each graduate with a brand-new pair of Redwing work boots, which will become an everyday essential in their new career. The boots are just the beginning of the opportunities that will become available to these graduates.

Of the 16 graduates, 8 students boasted perfect attendance, and 5 students are already placed with employers.

It goes to show that FTIUM’s programs produce hardworking, successful individuals.

We wish every one of our APEX Worker Readiness graduates a lifetime of success in the finishing trades and beyond! Our instructors and staff send our heartfelt congratulations to all of our graduates:

Nye Soe K Maw
Natalie Pollard
Blut Doh
Hollin Hackett
Robert Brunt
Alan Thavis
Breanna McDade
Chong Xieng
Hser Plaw
Barbara Dominguez
Richard Dominguez
Christie Wagner
Kwar Nieboer
Huriel Vazquez
Shae Htai
Lily Mitchell