Lake Street Works Builds Skillsets, Crushes Barriers for South Minneapolis Youth

This Minneapolis-based nonprofit and partner of the Construction Careers Foundation believes in the power of connecting disadvantaged youth to strong career development opportunities right within their own community – starting with construction.

Minneapolis, Minnesota – Recognizing that BIPOC, low-income students are bearing the brunt of the wounds that plague the city, the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Lake Street Works strives to provide Minneapolis-St. Paul young people with the tools to take charge of their own futures – literally.

The 12-month workforce development program provides 11th and 12th-grade students from low-income households in and around the Twin Cities area with life-changing exposure to the construction trades. Students in the program are paid to take courses such as Construction 101, HVAC, Electrical, Carpentry, and Plumbing, and generate life skills such as financial management and conflict resolution. According to Program Director Jess Coykendall, the true impact of the program goes far deeper than learning how to swing a hammer – for many students, it’s a way forward.

“The goal of the program is to create a long-term transformation for a community,” said Jess Coykendall, Program Director for Lake Street Works. “We want to give youth the means to break the generational cycle of minimum wage job hopping. Construction is a well-paying career that doesn’t require a traditional 4-year degree or $100,000 worth of debt. There are a million different strong avenues within the construction industry that a student could choose to pursue.”

More Than a Career

This paid career training is critical for Minneapolis youth who might not have access to the career resources that are more readily available to their wealthier peers. In a recent 2022 article published by Electrical Contractor, Coykendall notes, “Exposure is one of the biggest challenges that inner-city youth face with getting a foot in the doorway to a career in construction.”

This is why the program connects students with future employers from day one. Once a week, an industry representative gives a presentation about their career, answers student questions, and serves as a connection and resource for the students in the future. Previous representatives have had careers in the electrical trades, plumbing and HVAC, as well as design and architecture.

In addition to these weekly visits, the program connects students to potential employers by bringing them out to job sites and manufacturing plants. For the remainder of 2022, the students are scheduled to visit Flint Mills Refinery to speak with engineers, an Xcel Energy hydroelectric plant, and a solar farm with Hunt Electric, to name a few.

Though the organization is young, in the middle of its second year of operation, the success it has already seen is nothing short of inspiring.

“We have had some real tough guys come out of this program saying that they are happy to have a plan,” said Coykendall. “They feel that even if they don’t know exactly what it is they want, they know something is out there for them. It is the first time that many of these kids have had the feeling.”

Lake Street Works Joins Forces with the Construction Careers Foundation

Lake Street Works is a strong partner of the Construction Careers Foundation (CCF), a Twin Cities-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that strives to increase the diversity of entrants into the construction trades and foster long-term construction careers.

“CCF has a group of leaders who are who they say they are, and who live and die by what they say is important. They believe construction is a fantastic opportunity to change the trajectory of generational poverty,” said Coykendall. “CCF holds the bar high for the rest of us who are trying to be impactful with the youth we serve.”

Coykendall originally met Pat Wagner, Executive Director of the Construction Careers Foundation, through a mutual partnership with the National Electrical Contractors Association. Realizing their similar values, the organizations have since found a strong partnership in one another, building upon each other’s successes by offering curriculum advice, sharing research and pedagogical strategies, and mobilizing other educators to get involved.

“I wish I had words big enough for how instrumental CCF has been with the way we think about our program in terms of our priorities, how we put together our training sessions, and how to engage youth in a way that is memorable,” said Coykendall.

One of the many ways CCF has supported Lake Street Works is in helping to implement the organization’s summer sessions, one of four sessions throughout a calendar year. CCF leadership assisted in writing the curriculum for the program’s Safety 101 course and even led the first session for 10 weeks.

“CCF really put us on the path for raising our expectations for ourselves, and for paving the way for excellence in instruction with youth,” said Coykendall.

CCF and LSW: Leveraging Resources to Build a Future for Minnesota Youth

At the end of the day, Coykendall has one message that he wishes everyone to take to heart:

“If you have resources, it is your obligation to this city to utilize them,” said Coykendall. “Our high schoolers are in a world of hurt like we haven’t seen in 30 or 40 years. If you are of corporate or nonprofit nature and you have resources at your disposal, I would strongly encourage you to invest them in some way into career development at our high schools.”

To learn more about the Construction Careers Foundation, click here.

To learn more about Lake Street Works, click here.