At Pullman Tech Workshop, groups that have historically been shut out of the construction industry can learn woodworking and other career-building skills. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago

PULLMAN — A group of Far South Side tradespeople hope to slow things down through a new workshop program focused on preservation and restoration. 

At the Pullman Tech Workshop, woodworkers and construction workers are passing on the tricks of their trades to young Black people, people of color and women, groups who have historically been shut out of the construction industry.

The first cohort of the Pullman Tech Workshop began classes in late June, with current and future students learning to restore historical structures in Pullman, including doors and windows, organizers said.

The Pullman Tech Workshop, in the former home of Argus Brewery at 11314 S. Front Ave., is aimed at creating career opportunities for people of color living in and around Pullman and throughout the South Side, Executive Director Nick Lubovich said.

“So many different places, they do so much talking,” Lubovich said. “We don’t just talk; we’re doing, we go out there. We’re as grassroots as you get.” 

Current students are four weeks into a 12-week program, during which they learn woodworking and other trades from working professionals through workshops, classes and apprenticeship training. Students also learn practical literacy and math skills, can access transitional employment and get support to enter the industries, Lubovich said.

Students can leave at any point if they find the program isn’t a good fit or if they find construction jobs before the program wraps, Lubovich said.

The program is assisted by a team of people, including Luther Mason, the pastor of Greenstone United Methodist Church in Pullman. Mason has more than 20 years experience in construction management and serves as the program’s building and construction consultant. 

“Historic preservation, that’s what’s big. Because most of us, we all live in older homes, especially Black and Brown folks,” Mason said.

A classroom at Pullman Tech Workshop, at 11314 S. Front Avenue, on Friday, July 1, 2022. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago

The name for Pullman Tech is rooted in the history of the Pullman Palace Car Company. Industrialist George Pullman left a large endowment to fund a school for Pullman residents to learn trades and other skills after he died in 1897, Lubovich said. 

Pullman Technical High School — which later became Mendel Catholic High School and is now Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy — inspired the name for the Pullman Tech Workshop, Lubovich said.

Lubovich said he believes Pullman Tech Workshop can be especially successful in the Far South Side neighborhood with its historic homes, buildings and other structures. Lubovich saw the value in teaching others woodworking and other hands-on skills when he and his wife found help in restoring their Pullman home from youth in the neighborhood, he said.

“It’s not just about showing someone what a hammer is; it’s about showing them how to show up to work, how to work with other people, how to not bank at the currency exchange, stuff like that, that a lot of people take for granted, but is a hurdle for so many,” Lubovich said.

“We want to get you there. We want to get you to the level where you’re not only employable, but you can keep it and it’s because you want to be there.”

Pullman Tech Workshop is headquartered in the former home of Argus Brewery, at 11314 S. Front Avenue in Pullman. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago

Revolution Workshop has also partnered with Pullman Tech Workshop’s partner organization. Executive Director Manny Rodriguez started Revolution, a pre-apprenticeship construction training program, in Garfield Park in 2018. He said he believes the pandemic, the exacerbation of economic disparities across the city and recent social justice movements have led people of color to seek alternative employment options.

“You have this combination of here’s all this demand, here’s all of this social unrest and reset that we need,” Rodriguez said. “And here’s all these people that need opportunity. That’s what Revolution Workshop’s about. That’s what Pullman Tech’s about.

“Our whole goal was to take Black, Brown and women and get them into the field. And that’s really what we do here.”

Rodriguez is passionate about teaching financial literacy through his pre-apprenticeship programs. He thinks part of marginalized communities being able to break out of cycles of poverty and other trauma is creating financial self-sufficiency and having access to economic opportunity.

Rodriguez also hopes Revolution Workshop can help more people in the future by expanding to more neighborhoods. 

“If we can figure it out, we’d love to do this for more communities,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a ton of historical communities in our city, and … let’s be honest, most of them are occupied by Black and Brown people. 

“Instead of kicking them out, and letting white people take it over … why don’t we have them rebuild their own communities and then we work with something like a neighborhood housing service or resurrection project, or [Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives]? And we figure out how we can get these first-time homebuyers to buy from the community so [the money] stays in the community.”

The Greenstone United Methodist Church in the Pullman Historic District. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Pullman Tech Workshop’s first cohort will end in September, with the next group to begin in December. Rodriguez said they don’t offer classes in fall because prospective students would end the program during the winter, typically a hard season for construction and woodworking jobs. 

Lubovich said he hopes people know they don’t have to go to college to have a successful career and it’s OK to seek alternatives to higher education.

Rodriguez also hopes Pullman Tech Workshop and Revolution Workshop can inspire similar programs in the future.

“I can’t serve all the underserved people in the city, and the construction-sector can’t serve every underserved individual in the city,” Rodriguez said. “We need programs like Revolution in IT and health care and in manufacturing, and there are there are, but we need more of them we need them to have more capacity.

“We’re not doing this for our ego. We’re doing this because of our community.”

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