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S.M. Wright Project: South Dallas workers still unemployed

DIANE XAVIER | 5/1/2015, 10:07 a.m.
Disappointment and frustration now follows an agreement regarding a program that would offer training and employment to residents within the ...
Graphic of the proposed S.M. Wright Project. TxDOT

The Dallas Examiner

Disappointment and frustration now follows an agreement regarding a program that would offer training and employment to residents within the areas surrounding the S.M. Wright Project. When the Texas Department of Transportation began finalizing their plan to convert S.M. Wright Freeway along US 175 to a low-speed arterial roadway, there was an agreement that would provide an opportunity for residents in the affected area to be trained and hired specifically for the project.

CitySquare, a non-profit organization that trains people in jobs that provide a living wage with benefits, agreed to train applicants who reside in ZIP codes 75215 and 75210, as well as parts of Southern Dallas for work on the highway construction that is slated to take place this summer.

“The training was to provide jobs for people who could work on the S.M. Wright redesign,” said Gerald Britt, vice president of External Affairs for CitySquare. “We had struck that deal with the North Texas Council of Government and the Texas Department of Transportation in order to provide some opportunity for employment and also to give South Dallas residents a level of say-so in the project and participation in the project that would provide income.”

CitySquare partnered with Cedar Valley Community College to train 11 men on highway construction.

“CitySquare’s job was primarily to do both the screening as well as the training in soft skills in order to prepare them for the hard skill training on highway construction which Cedar Valley would provide,” Britt said. “We initially trained 11 people and the contractors that we had with the state said these people must not only be trained for jobs but also get jobs and hold them for at least 90 days.”

To Britt’s surprise, the main contractor of the project, Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Inc., did not hire any of the trainees. BBI specializes in large, complex construction projects.

“Their stance is that they are preparing to hire them as needed on the job,” Britt said. “The only problem is that we constructed the training schedule to coincide with what they told us the need was and so consequently they haven’t been hired yet.”

The training for the 11 men started in late January and early February and lasted 10 weeks and the trainees were selected by application, passing a drug screening and a standard evaluation in terms of their reading level and comprehension level. They were also trained according to the contractor’s company specifications.

“A representative from Balfour Beatty said the plan was to hire them as the need arose around the S.M. Wright Freeway Project,” Britt said. “This project actually begins early to mid-summer and if we had known that and if they would have stated that, we could have pushed back the training to coincide more closely with their start schedule. The problem is you can’t train anybody for a job in February and ask them to wait until June or July to start work.”

Britt said he was disappointed that the men were not hired.