“I was interested in learning and gaining knowledge for a career,” Phraviseth said. Phraviseth heard about a free program that would pay for his training in a matter of weeks. So he signed up for that program.
Isaac Yang was also looking for a career and heard about the same program. “I wanted training that would help me with a career in construction,” Yang said.
The program Phraviseth and Yang enrolled in is the ACTx Construction Job Training program run by the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA), a nonprofit organization. Since 2013, AEDA has provided training for hundreds of business owners, helping them to get loans so they can start and grow businesses. As these businesses grew, AEDA helped them find workers.
According to Zer Khang, the Director of the ACTx program, AEDA created ACTx in 2019 because the construction industry has many jobs that go unfilled every year.
“Minnesota Asians can help fill these jobs if they are trained. AEDA’s certification training program helps Asians enter these well-paying careers,” Khang said.
Jobs in building and construction are the fastest growing and pay some of the highest wages. But as more construction workers retire, many companies can’t find enough workers fast enough to fill jobs.
“We designed the program to train people quickly, get certified, and help them find a job,” Khang said. The program runs three weeks, covers basic construction knowledge such as measurements, communication skills, use of tools, and job safety. AEDA pays trainees $300 to take the course. Once trainees have completed the course successfully, AEDA helps them find employment with a construction company.
“The certification from our program is accepted and recognized nationally. With certification, our trainees could be employed anywhere,” Khang said. “The program is open to anyone over 18, with or without experience in building and construction. Those with skills could be placed in a job immediately.”
Bruce Lee, a U.S. Army National Guard veteran, was placed in a construction job by ACTx and received on-the-job training.
“I enrolled in the program and was immediately placed with a company earning $15 per hour,” Lee said. “The company gave me six months of on-the-job training. I was promoted and got a raise within three months and was recommended for the electricians union’s apprenticeship program.” Bruce now works as an electrician apprentice earning well over $20 an hour.
“A career in construction or a trade pays very well. Anyone who invests the time and commitment, could go from $15 an hour as a pre-apprentice to $80,000 plus a year as a journeyman,” said Khang, whose own path involved completing training, gaining experience as an employee, and then starting his own construction company. Today, in addition to being the Director of ACTx Construction, he is one of the few Asian owners of a Minnesota construction company.
“I think Asians have these myths about jobs in construction. That’s why there aren’t many Asians in the industry,” Khang said. According to Khang, many Asians don’t see a construction career as one they can pursue. For one thing, Asians see few other Asians on construction sites so they don’t feel they would be welcomed or fit in. Another reason is that Asians see construction work as too physically demanding and only for males who are physically big. But the construction workplace has changed with people from all walks of life and size employed in the industry.
“Today’s construction jobs still demand physical ability, but most jobs are done by using special tools and equipment. Construction sites prioritize safety, and protocols are strictly enforced,” Khang said. “The idea that you must be physically strong or male to work in construction is false. Safety, skills, work ethic, team work, and critical thinking are valued over physical strength.”
Khang emphasized that ACTx enrolls both men and women. There are now more opportunities for women in construction and the building trades.
“What people don’t realize is that there are many different types of jobs in construction, from the equipment operators to surveyors, engineers, and managers,” Khang said. “All these jobs need skills, experience, and certification, and to get that, you need to get your foot in the door. ACTx Construction creates and opens that door to construction careers.”
Khang said that construction companies have a role to recruit from Asian communities as well. As more Asians are seen on construction sites and promoted to management, they will become role models and encourage others to enter the field.
“The future of the industry depends on how well it can reach and hire Asians and other communities that are growing in numbers and who are younger in age,” Khang said.