× Exit

YouthBuild program teaches construction and life skills

How do you teach construction skills remotely?

That’s the question Jesse Hinton, supervisor for our Calumet Center’s YouthBuild Program, responded to with a virtual version of the program’s curriculum, which offers education and occupational skills that prepare youth for jobs with good wages.

Generally, YouthBuild participants alternate between the classroom and the work site, learning construction skills while building affordable housing in their communities. Youth earn certifications in areas like CPR and NCCER (from the National Center for Construction Education and Research).

When Zoom became the classroom and the construction site, Jesse adapted his approach while still maintaining the central focus of the program, which can be best explained in a sentiment he often shares with his youth: “Don’t let your talent take you somewhere your character won’t let you stay.”

Yes, we will learn construction skills, but equally important are life skills.

Jesse started Zoom sessions with a pre-test: What do we know so far? We’re building a house from the ground up, what’s the first thing we need to do?

The youth answered with their suggestions – build the foundation, erect the walls – then Jesse sent them a video of someone building a house, along with their original answers, asking them to watch the video and correct their thought process.

Each session was a conversation around different topics, from safety basics and vocabulary to effective communication and de-escalation techniques, with Jesse asking questions about the components.

“Knowledge is money,” he’d say, and each correct answer is worth $5 toward your hypothetical construction site. The questions – things like, “what was the brand of that drill?” – are designed to teach youth to pay attention, learn the skills, and stay patient.

At the end of the session, he’d tally up the correct answers and ask the day’s most knowledgeable person, are you willing to take a chance? Answer one more mystery question to potentially earn more money for your team, or leave with all your own money?

“Most of them choose to sacrifice for the team,” Jesse shares.

Between sessions, Jesse kept up the discussions over phone, text, or email; not only to ensure the youth were understanding the process, but also to check in as a mentor.

It’s part of his broader focus on teaching leadership and life skills through YouthBuild.

“[YouthBuild] is not going to be just construction,” shares Jesse, who went to vocational school and says he learned more about construction from being a property owner. “It’s more life skills for them to be successful in life, knowing this can be beneficial and helpful – but there’s other things I want you to know.”

They’ll talk about things like, “don’t be afraid to ask about your money, people do that in business, but it’s the way you say it,” he shares. “Be assertive ask for what you’re looking for, without being offensive or overly aggressive.”

Jesse, who was a youth basketball coach, says he applies a similar mindset toward YouthBuild. “Anyone can teach you how to swing a hammer and use a drill, but to get you to use life skills? That’s a whole other deal.”

The importance of personality and work ethic, in addition to the hard skills of construction, make a difference, and that’s something Jesse doesn’t need a construction site to teach.

Jesse is new to the program, but is hoping to expand as youth spread the word about the opportunity. He’s proud of his graduates, both for the certifications they’ve earned and for their development as human beings.

“Hopefully they find something with me,” he says.


YouthBuild Chicago is an innovative alternative education program, for individuals ages 18 – 24, providing unemployed highschool dropouts the education and occupational skills that prepare them for jobs with good wages. Youth alternate between the classroom and the work site, learning construction skills while building affordable housing in their communities. Certifications include First Aid/CPR, NCCER Core, OSHA 10, and NCCER Carpentry.