SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Operating engineer Meganne Pryor spends her days working clamps, driving trucks and occasionally even underground doing construction for San Francisco’s new Transbay Terminal. Pryor is not just a journeywoman in the field, she’s also a proud graduate of CityBuild, a specialized training program run by the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
San Francisco residents with a high school diploma or GED, valid driver’s license, and clean drug test are eligible to take part in CityBuild’s intensive 18-week training course. The idea is put San Franciscans to work in the Bay Area’s local union construction trades.
It’s a booming business with all the building going on: $10 billion of construction is in the pipeline for San Francisco which requires that all city construction projects reserve 30 percent of their jobs for locals.
Jobs are plentiful and the wages are high, sometimes in the six-figures. But while the requirements seem basic, Pryor said the program is a military-like construction boot camp, where punctuality and physical fitness are just the beginning.
“Running, lifting rocks, doing pushups, doing sit-ups and they were; like you need to be fit for construction.” explained Pryor. “If you were there at seven, you were late. You need to be there at 6:30 and they taught you that, too. You need to come every day a half an hour early because if you were on time you’re late.”
CityBuild runs its program out of San Francisco City College’s Bayview-Hunters Point campus, and its students learn everything about construction, carpentry, tile setting, even ironwork. They are also subject to multiple skill assessments, overseen by CityBuild instructors, union representatives, and even future employers.
Although students receive tutoring when needed, not everyone makes the final cut. Out of each class of about 50 students, around 10 percent leave before the 18 weeks are up.
Program manager Marc Majors says in the long run, the rigorous selection process does benefit both student and employer. The decade-long program has trained about 1,000 men and women and reports over 800 are still on the job – a figure both Majors and Pryor say points to a basic philosophy.
“It is your character and how much you want it. That’s how they base it off of if they are going to pick you or not,” said Pryor. “A lot of people didn’t get in and they think, ‘oh man they need to put me in there, I am a good worker. I am a hard worker,’ and it’s like you have got to prove that. No one is going to give you a handout.”
For Pryor this job has been a dream come true. She was working 16 hours at a minimum-wage job with no benefits when she found CityBuild. Now she is looking to put down roots here and buy a house.
The self-described tomboy is also loving her job, driving the big machines as she calls them, and playing in the dirt.
“I was like, I would love to get paid to play in the dirt. Like, who wouldn’t love that?” said Pryor. “Me, I was like, that is what I want to do. Sign me up for that and I haven’t looked back since. I love it.”
It’s the kind of economic success story Majors says he works for, keeping San Francisco employed and diverse.
“Residents are going to be working on those projects'” said Majors. “That means that they are going to get their paycheck. They are going to spend their money in San Francisco.”
CityBuild is free to all San Francisco residents who meet its qualifications.