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Franklin County, Ohio: Building Its Future One Graduate at a Time

By Ken Wilson, Franklin County Administrator, from PM Magazine

Franklin County in Central Ohio is growing faster today than at any time in recent memory, with near monthly announcements of new high-tech investments in the region and population growth projections that have to be updated every year because the rate of growth keeps increasing. With all of this growth will come challenges, however, and local government leaders are working hard to plan for the transportation, education, healthcare, and housing systems that their communities will need in the near future. All of those new residents will also need jobs, and all of those digital economy investors will need skilled labor to help build and work in their new facilities.

The gulf between job seekers and well-paid careers can sometimes seem very wide. There’s a shortage of qualified construction workers in Central Ohio, but it’s a job that not just anyone can step into. Fortunately, the skilled building trades employ an apprenticeship model that allows workers to earn competitive wages and benefits while learning their craft. Unfortunately, there are many hard-working potential workers who are not quite qualified or ready to jump right into apprenticeship. That’s where Franklin County’s Building Futures program comes in.

Building Futures is a 12-week pre-apprenticeship program that helps low-income residents advance to the point of being qualified for an apprenticeship in the skilled building trades. The program and its sponsors recognize that candidates could be facing many barriers, so while the students receive classroom and practical instruction, they also get a stipend and wrap-around services to help with other challenges that could be standing in the way of their success.

The Building Futures program was created by the Franklin County commissioners in 2017, and represents a partnership among the county, the NAACP, a local nonprofit called Creating Central Ohio Futures, and the Columbus Building and Construction Trades Council. Since the first cohort in 2018, more than 250 local residents have graduated from Building Futures and moved on into great middle class careers in the skilled building trades. There’s a 100-person waiting list, a graduation rate of about 90%, and the average starting wage for graduates is between $40,000 and $50,000.