Bright outlook for RichmondBUILD grads following Chevron Richmond modernization approval

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The Chevron Richmond modernization project helped make the RichmondBUILD graduation Friday that much more hopeful for the future of the program's students.
Assemblymember Nancy Skinner praised the work and effort of RichmondBUILD graduates Friday.

At a 2011 graduation for the job training program RichmondBUILD, featured speaker Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom did his best to sound encouraging when addressing graduates about to enter a shrinking workforce.

That sentiment of uncertainty was absent from Friday’s ceremony for 24 RichmondBUILD graduates, who were reminded that the upcoming $1 billion modernization of the Chevron Richmond Refinery, approved by City Council last month, will create up to 2,300 jobs, including 1,000 construction jobs for the city.

Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, a featured speaker at this year’s ceremony at the RichmondBUILD headquarters at 500 23rd St., was more confident than Newsom could be three years ago about job prospects. Though construction employment in California is still reeling from the housing crisis, Skinner said RichmondBUILD graduates will have an easier time finding jobs because they have specialized skills.

“The more you can specialize, the more there is a guarantee you will have high, good-wage jobs,” Skinner said.

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RichmondBUILD graduate Breonna Westry shakes hands with elected officials and city and business representatives.

RichmondBUILD is the City of Richmond’s award-winning program started in 2007 that trains low-income Richmond-area residents in trades such as carpentry, hazardous waste removal, solar energy and energy efficiency.

To date, the program has trained more than 500 residents and netted a 76-percent job placement rate with an average starting salary over $17 an hour, program officials said. Even in the worst years of the recession, the program has thrived.

“This is a program that has had success year after year after year,” City Manager Bill Lindsay said Friday.

Matt Brown, operations manager at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, said the plant is looking to hire dozens of workers to replace retirees on its operations and maintenance teams. That’s aside from the thousands of jobs expected from modernization.

“I sincerely hope to see a lot of you at the refinery,” Brown told graduates.

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Seven of the 24 graduates have already gone to work with companies including Turner Group Construction, Enclose Corp., Labor Max, Wilson Bailey Construction and Overaa Construction, according to the program.

It was also noted that women, not just men, graduated Friday.

“We’re stepping up,” Breonna Westry said. “We’re here.”

Classmate Chiew Saechao was equally grateful to the RichmondBUILD staff.

“Thank you for this opportunity, for pushing us to succeed,” Saechao said.

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Scott Ifft shows off the fruits of his labor at the RichmondBUILD graduation.

Mexican senator Luisa María Calderón, sister of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, was a surprise guest at Friday’s graduation. She happened t0 be in the area and wanted to observe how a community can rally to produce such a successful program, said Sal Vacca, the city’s Director of Employment & Training. In the photo below, she is sitting next to Richmond Councilmember Nat Bates:

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