WSB's Opportunity+ fast tracks participants toward exciting careers
Unique training program fast tracks participants toward an exciting career
Recently, Whitney Harvey, Senior Director of Workforce Diversity and Inclusion of the Minnesota Chamber Foundation sat down with Laura Rescorla, Project Engineer with WSB, to discuss WSB's unique job training program, Opportunity+. The article marks the first in a series that highlights the incredible Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work that Minnesota Chamber members do each and every day.
Laura Rescorla, Project Engineer, WSB
Whitney Harvey: Could you please some background around your organization and the Opportunity + training program?
Laura Rescorla: WSB is a forward-thinking design and consulting firm specializing in engineering, community planning, environmental and construction services. We partner with clients and communities to build what’s next in infrastructure— the places, spaces and systems that support our lives.
Opportunity+ is a unique and accelerated training program where participants receive the training, skill building and networking necessary for a long-term career as a civil engineering technician. The program began in 2020 with a focus on reaching those underrepresented in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry, and continues to grow each year. We connect participants to careers at WSB and with our hiring partners.
Whitney Harvey: What is the primary objective of the Opportunity + training program?
Laura Rescorla: Civil engineering is the foundation of the spaces, places and systems around us, and civil engineering technicians are vital in confirming infrastructure is built safely and correctly. The primary objective of Opportunity+ is to connect participants to long-term, benefits earning careers in the AEC industry by breaking down some of the barriers to entry and providing a free, fast-paced training. Additionally, a core goal of the program is to diversify our industry.
Whitney Harvey: What specific skills and knowledge areas do participants expect to gain from participating in this program?
Laura Rescorla: Opportunity+ is a fast-paced program that provides necessary skills to start a career as a civil engineering technician. The program includes classroom and field training. This approach allows a variety of ways for participants to learn. In addition to learning the material at a desk, they also get valuable hands-on experiences that make the program interactive and fun. Participants gain an introduction to the industry, including an understanding of the infrastructure that makes up our roads and cities, how to read a construction plan set and reinforcing personal leadership skills that are specifically needed for careers in the AEC industry. Some specific areas of focus include surveying, construction materials testing and site inspecting.
In surveying, participants learn how to collect data needed for construction and development. This includes learning to operate and maintain survey field equipment including GPS and robotic Total Station, gathering topographic survey information and setting stakes for construction surveys.
For construction materials testing, participants learn how to perform field testing to verify the materials used in construction meet project specifications. This includes performing sampling and testing of soils, asphalt and concrete in the field, maintaining record logs and providing inspections of construction operations in the field.
Lastly, for site inspection, participants learn the basics of construction inspection, specifically for natural gas distribution pipelines and facilities.
Whitney Harvey: How does this program fit in to the overall mission, vision, and values of WSB as an organization?
Our core values at WSB are bold, authentic, optimistic, visionary and passionate. Opportunity+ perfectly aligns with each of these values. We want the AEC industry to look more like the communities we serve, and we are committed to actionable change and diversifying our industry. Many are interested in joining the industry, but they lack the necessary tools and training. Through this program, we are creating real opportunity.
As Opportunity+ expands, we are excited by the graduates of the program and the bright futures they will have as civil engineering technicians. The future is what we make of it, and this program will not only help the industry flourish, but it will provide opportunities for those that desire it.
Whitney Harvey: What advice do you have for business leaders interested in implementing career training programs within their organizations?
Laura Rescorla: The first thing that I would encourage others interested in implementing a similar program to do is to identify – and then always come back to – the why behind your program. Being rooted in the core reasons for the program has been critical, both when faced with questions or doubts, and when met with excitement and a lot of ideas that could pull the program off track. Building buy in and excitement can be challenging, but also a lot of fun! What better way to prepare the workforce you need, than by building it from the ground up, arming people with the knowledge and tools necessary to succeed? It is exciting to be a part of developing a stronger organization, but even more so, to be a small part of each participant’s story of growth and success.
Whitney Harvey: What sets this program apart from similar career training programs in the field?
Laura Rescorla: There aren’t many programs as fast paced and accessible as Opportunity+! Participation in the program – and being hired into the careers it leads to – doesn’t require a college degree or multi-year apprenticeship program. While those paths have tremendous opportunity for people that pursue in them, we wanted to connect with people looking for meaningful work with tangible impacts to the community but didn’t necessarily have the time or resources for longer training programs. Additionally, the program was built to provide a pathway into the AEC industry for those that are generally underrepresented in it. Our attention in recent years has focused on women, people of color and veterans.
The intent of the program is to reduce and remove some of the barriers to a successful career as a civil engineering technician. Opportunity+ takes place in the evenings, which allows participants to continue working or taking care of family during the day. It is a fast-paced, 6-week commitment. We have removed the roadblocks like lack of financial resources and needing to work full-time during the day, and we have formed a program that is free, flexible and accelerated. It is rare to see this accomplished in other programs.
Whitney Harvey: Do you have a success story to share about past program successes?
Laura Rescorla: Since its inception in 2020, 28 people have graduated from Opportunity+, with the largest graduating cohort to date in 2023. Aside from a growth in graduates, several have accepted jobs with WSB or our hiring partners and have begun careers in the AEC industry.
Chaldelia Browne is a graduate of the 2021 Opportunity+ cohort. As a West African immigrant, she had a degree in natural resources management from Liberia. Opportunity+ was critical in helping her get her foot in the door in the AEC industry in the U.S. We are proud to have her as a natural resources colleague at WSB.
Mahamed Ibrahim, a graduate of the 2023 Opportunity+ cohort, works as a site-inspector at WSB. He had been in the United States for less than a year and was eager to participate in the program. Ibrahim already had a background in civil engineering from East Africa, and we were happy to connect his previous experience to his new work life in the civil engineering industry here in the U.S.
João Gonçalves is another graduate of Opportunity+ and has been working for the City of St. Paul since Spring 2022. Opportunity+ provided a way for him to see the many different paths of a civil engineer technician and helped him find what he was most drawn to— land surveying. We are thrilled to recognize his accomplishments in the field, including recently being promoted to Survey Crew Leader.