Green Opportunities’ YouthBuild program creates construction career pathways for young adults

YouthBuild student Kymadree Ruff (left) practices making accurate measurements with instructor and YouthBuild program coordinator Eric Howell.


Last month, Green Opportunities kicked-off the second of three planned cycles of its new YouthBuild training program, a tuition-free pre-apprenticeship program designed for out-of-school youth in Buncombe County. Ten young adults ranging in age from 16 to 24 are enrolled in the latest YouthBuild training cycle; 80% of the participants are teenagers, and 40% are women. 90% are high school drop-outs hoping to earn their GED® while gaining meaningful skills and work experience in an in-demand field.


Green Opportunities (GO) was one of 77 programs from across the country to receive a YouthBuild grant from the U.S. Department of Labor last fall. YouthBuild is a recognized pre-apprenticeship program that helps at-risk youth complete high school equivalency programs, earn industry-recognized certifications, and undertake training to build affordable housing for low-income or homeless individuals in their communities.


“The YouthBuild program at GO is a unique opportunity for young people,” says Karen George, who has served as the YouthBuild program instructor since January and also runs a natural building company.


“It’s really more like ‘Life Build’,” she adds. GO’s YouthBuild participants study the Home Builders Institute Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (HBI-PACT) curriculum, learning construction and leadership skills while studying for their GED® or high school equivalency diploma. Students earn a modest weekly living stipend while learning a curriculum that encompasses safety and first-aid, construction math, general tool knowledge, employability, building, carpentry, and weatherization. Students receive personalized support services as needed, including counseling and financial coaching, from an on-staff case manager, as well as assistance securing employment from GO’s job developer.


YouthBuild Cohort 2 student Angelo Collington hammers a board into place while framing a tool shed.


The full-time program lasts for six to nine months, allowing participants to complete the HBI coursework at their own pace. “I have watched students go from using a nail gun for the first time to being a leader on our construction projects. Through the YouthBuild program, the sky is truly the limit for our students,” George adds.


On-the-job training and project-based experience are key components of the YouthBuild training model. GO’s current YouthBuild cohort will cut their teeth in construction by completing the Southside Arts Pavilion project started by GO’s first cycle, as well as construct three single-family, affordable homes in Asheville’s Southside neighborhood in partnership with the Asheville Housing Authority. Deltec Homes is partnering on the construction of those houses, with building expected to begin in summer 2018.


GO launched the first of three planned YouthBuild training cycles in November 2017. Members of GO’s first YouthBuild class initially honed their framing and carpentry skills by building a chicken coop in GO’s on-site construction workshop, before breaking ground on a covered outdoor arts pavilion in the Southside Community Garden. As the home-building experience is a key component of the YouthBuild program model, George also arranged for her first class to participate in a Habitat for Humanity build in Arden. She plans to continue incorporating service-learning with Habitat into the curriculum for the second YouthBuild cohort.


YouthBuild student Eddie Green volunteers on a Habitat for Humanity build site. He learned to use a track saw to cut soffit for the Habitat house. 


Participating in on-the-job training opportunities, including building the garden pavilion and securing a paid welding apprenticeship, were highlights of the program for Eddie Green, who earned his HBI Pre-Apprenticeship certificate in early May. “It’s been a good experience, something I’d like to tell other folks to come and try,” says Green. “They introduced me to new people that I never knew.”


While Mr. Green already held a high school diploma when he entered YouthBuild last fall, the program staff helped him improve his math skills and successfully navigate new experiences, like opening a bank account and networking with potential employers. “If I didn’t go through this program, I’d be in the same predicament as before, still looking for a job. This program helped me strived to do a lot of things that I never thought I could do.”


GO’s YouthBuild program has yielded real results for participants of its first cohort. To date, thirteen students have received their OSHA 10-Hour construction safety cards, five earned a CPR/First-Aid certification, four students completed the HBI Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training in carpentry, and two students earned their High-School Equivalency diplomas. Three students secured entry-level jobs in the construction industry: one as a carpenter, another as a metalworker, and a third as a mason.


A 2014 graduate of GO’s former Built Environment training program, YouthBuild Program Coordinator Eric Howell is well aware of how a training program like YouthBuild can help students change course and thrive. “GO saved me from going down a path that I didn’t want to go down,” says Howell. “I love my job at GO. I’m able to help out others that are heading down a path that is unhealthy for them.”


To learn more about GO’s YouthBuild program contact Eric Howell at or (828) 398-4158 x118.