Careers Under Construction

Bulldozing Employment Barriers at CRC

News Center – August 2020


Melissa Silva always wanted to become a construction inspector for the same union as her two older brothers. But even though she applied three times, she still couldn’t land her dream job.

“I passed the test every time,” recalls Silva. “But the problem with me was the panel interview.”

Realizing the need to shore up her confidence along with her industry knowledge, she enrolled in Cosumnes River College’s Construction Technology program to start digging the trenches for a stronger career foundation.

Soon, the walls that had blocked Silva’s career progress began crumbling down. She immediately took to the CRC program’s hands-on, workforce-focused philosophy and was soon stocking an impressive toolbox, assembling skills in power tool use, carpentry, materials and blueprint reading. Along the way, she picked up her essential OSHA 10 certification, bulldozing yet another barrier to her dream career.

A year later, Silva has joined her brothers at last, as a proud apprentice in the Operating Engineers Union. For her colleagues in the CRC program – and especially her mentor, Construction Professor Ryan Connally, it was a day of celebration.

“Ryan told me he was so proud of me that I finally got my dream job,” enthuses Silva. “He made a big speech about it in front of the whole class.”

Connally remembers the moment fondly.

“We are very proud of the fact that we proactively try to get the word out to women in the region,” says the delighted professor, who helped redesign the school’s longstanding construction program about 20 years ago.

Silva is already making strides in her new career. Recently, she completed her first field grade test in concrete and plans to go out into the field soon. With five to seven years of hard work, she hopes to become a journeyman inspector with her current company, Construction Testing Services, overseeing commercial construction.

In an industry where experience is at a premium, Silva is grateful for her program’s real-world approach. She credits the program’s practicality for anchoring her confidence as she aced her fourth-and-final job interview.

“It gave me more confidence,” says the apprentice inspector, once again naming Connally as an inspiration. “He knew I had it in me. I just needed to speak up and be confident, and I’d get it. And he was right!”

More than just careers, the Cosumnes River College Construction Tech program has a reputation for building communities. Since 2005, students have been going off-campus two to three times a week to build for Habitat for Humanity locations in Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley, as well as Rebuilding Together Sacramento.

“We’ve had over 50 homes for families in Sacramento that we’ve had a major part in touching,” says Connally. “It just adds to the meaning and validity of what we’re teaching them.”

In the past year and a half, CRC students have worked on at least seven home projects for the Sacramento Habitat alone and helped with the major Rock the Block events, which complete about 30 projects in just 36 hours. The volunteer work gives future professionals crucial training while also making a big difference in the community.

“The students are an absolute delight,” beams Laine Himmelmann, Director of Development for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento. She says CRC students bring more skills than the typical volunteer, and they are also extremely passionate about helping. “Not only is it a great experience for them … they also have the opportunity to improve the community where they’re from in many cases.

“It’s been a really wonderful partnership.”

For Silva, gaining real-world exposure while assisting those in need provided the perfect motivation to persist.

“It was great,” recalls Silva, who would lead the cut team on regular class outings. “You actually have experience being out there physically … It just makes everything so much better.”

Other hands-on opportunities in the program include a tiny home-building contest sponsored by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). CRC first hosted the event in 2016, drawing more than 20,000 people. Now, with the help of Strong Workforce funds, the school is developing a tiny house village and is currently looking at meaningful ways to put the homes to use, such as emergency or homeless shelters. The project also serves as a multidisciplinary springboard for several departments.

“We saw really good cross-pollination of our architecture, design, building inspection, construction, and construction management programs,” says Connally. “It was a big hit.”

According to the professor, demand has been fast and furious for his students in residential and commercial construction. As a large percentage of the workforce nears retirement, he expects the need will only grow and is continually helping students, past and present, find in-demand jobs.

“Once you’re done the program,” he says, “you’re part of the family.”

For recruits, Connally’s expert instruction and enthusiastic support make all of the difference in kick-starting new careers.

“Ryan goes out of his way for his students,” says thankful alum Cameron Hamilton, who remodeled his vocation at the CRC. “He bent over backward to help many of us.”

Throughout the term, Connally would bring several employers to campus. Hamilton applied to a handful, armed with letters of recommendation from his instructor. His CRC credentials preceding him, Hamilton was quickly snapped up by Skyline Scaffolding, along with a fellow student.

“They got us interviews, and we got hired,” recalls Hamilton, also now a member of the union. “That was about two days, and then we were working.”

His instructor couldn’t be happier. “After four months of being in college … now, he’s a carpenter,” gushes Connally. “He’s the foreman of a scaffolding crew at one of our largest public works projects in the Valley.”

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. In fact, Hamilton works just down the street from the College on a new water treatment plant. From creating the forms that shape the concrete to constructing scaffolding and stair towers, everything he learned in school is helping him do his job like a pro.

“I never thought this could be possible,” says Hamilton. “I had zero construction experience before the program. And now, I’m out here working 40 hours a week in an essential industry.”

With his solid CRC foundation in place, Hamilton says he felt miles ahead of other apprentices, and he’s grateful to his alma mater for putting him on the fast-track to a high-paying job. Says the alum, “It’s very hard to get into the union on your own and get the same training that I got for a couple hundred bucks.”

One day, Hamilton hopes to return to the school and earn his associate degree in Construction Management. And though he currently has his hands full with three young children and another baby on the way, he knows that CRC will be there when he’s ready:

“I think it’s basically what community college was made for, a program where you get skills on your own schedule and not break the bank.”