Seizing Opportunity

All Star Electric Joins the Youth Empowerment Project to Brighten Futures

Jonas Scott wasn’t planning to become an electrician. “But the opportunity came, I just took it, and I’m beginning to start liking what I’m learning,” he says.

Sterling Stossmeister thought about being an electrician two years ago while working in construction, but could not afford the training. “When this opportunity opened up I just had to take it,” says Stossmeister. “It’s something I like to do, it’s fun, it’s fulfilling.”

Stossmeister, 23, sought out the Youth Empowerment Project to see what help he could find to better his life. Scott, 24, earned a high school equivalency diploma as a graduate of NOPLAY (New Orleans Providing Literacy to All Youth), the education arm of YEP. He kept in touch with his YEP mentors, who let him know about a new partnership with one of the largest and most respected electrical contractors in Southeast Louisiana.

Jonas Scott says he is a visual learner, which works out well in his electrician’s apprenticeship.

Jonas Scott says he is a visual learner, which works out well in his electrician’s apprenticeship.

All Star Electric is known for high-profile jobs ranging from city streetlights to the Superdome. It’s also recognized for its culture of giving back to the communities where it works. New Orleans City Councilmember Jason Williams, who funded tools, uniforms, and supplies for participants, brought YEP and All Star together. All Star Electric General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Jarred Bradley says giving back was the main motivation for teaming with YEP, but not the only one. “We as a business need trained and good workers,” Bradley says. “Electrical work is a craft. You can’t just learn it from school you have to be actually doing it.”

All Star begins the training for its rigorously screened new apprentices at a weeklong boot camp staged at YEP to cover safety and the basics of electrical work. Those who successfully complete boot camp become full-time employees of All Star, working on job sites 40 hours a week and attending twice-weekly classes to work towards certification. At the end of the four-year program apprentices become journeymen. “This certification goes anywhere, and you can be an electrician anywhere with this,” says Bradley. “And it’s very useful, it’s a craft, it’s a trade, and it’s something that’s in strong demand especially now in New Orleans.”

Stossmeister and Scott are among the 26,000 people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the New Orleans region known as Opportunity Youth, disconnected from school and work. The same area has a projected 42,000 job openings in the skilled crafts by the year 2020. BCM is among the organizations leading the movement for employer engagement, pursuing pathways to growth industries training, and research and public policy to solve the crisis of Opportunity Youth and expand the Greater New Orleans economy.

All Star’s executive team is committed to its mission with YEP but admits there will be growing pains getting all their nearly 400 employees to buy into the program. Bradley says the new trainees don’t have what YEP calls the soft skills. “And I think that’s really important to build a culture inside of All Star that says, hey, you need to mentor these guys, and bring them along and show them, this is certainly how you build a conduit and connect a piece of wire,” Bradley says, “But this is how a team works and how you interact on the job site and those kind of things.”

Two of YEP’s first participants in the apprenticeships are learning both skills of the trade, and lessons in life from new mentors. “They know that I don’t know nothing,” says Scott. “But they want me to show I’m willing to learn not just stand around…they want me to show that I want to be here.”

“They have a good method,” adds Stossmeister. “They even try to put me with different people just to see if I can handle that pressure. A week ago I started at a new site, the four or five days I was there I worked with a different person each day.”

Bradley notes All Star hopes to reach out to the construction industry as a whole to use what it’s building with YEP as a model. “There’s a lot of different trades and a lot of different people who feel the same as Todd Trosclair, our CEO, who wants to give back and who wants to start and have a trained workforce to better New Orleans and make the infrastructure better.”

“To be able to have a career and work, that’s gold,” Stossmeister says, “When I’m done, I ask for something else to do. I’m enthusiastic about it.”

“There are a lot of people willing to help me,” Scott reflects, “I’ve just got to be willing to help myself.”