NYATEP Member Spotlight: CenterState CEO - An Interview with Aimee Durfee
Posted on July 11, 2022
Increasing the number of BIPOC and Women in the Construction Trades through Pathways to Apprenticeship
CenterState CEO is embarking on some ambitious workforce development goals by incubating Syracuse Build, a mayoral initiative to increase the number of women and Black, Indigenous, and people of color working in Construction. Pathways to Apprenticeship is a core program of Syracuse Build; individuals who complete this pre-apprenticeship program are prepared to enter a union apprenticeship and begin their career in Construction. Aimee Durfee, Director of Workforce Innovation, is working with partners to develop this project and other innovations coming out of Central NY and Syracuse.
Aimee moved to New York from The Bay Area in California looking for more affordable housing and less congestion with her spouse in early 2020. Her years of anti-poverty work after graduating from law school, let her combine her experience in funding and policy with the skills she gained in employment law. .. Aimee describes the work she does with her team as “really functioning as a Workforce intermediary inside of a business organization, an economic development organization that also has the focus on economic inclusion.”
Syracuse Build is transforming lives by providing access to permanent, well-paying construction jobs for individuals in Syracuse. As Aimee describes it, “ The I-81 project is the largest construction project the NY Dept of Transportation has undertaken in Central New York, and it will run through the City of Syracuse.” She continues, “One of the foundational principles of our work is that we know there is untapped talent in the community. So we ask ourselves what are we doing around that principle? We’re looking for people. We ask employers, we ask unions, what are the real core skills you’re looking for? When we ask about Coders, employers say Problem-solving, alright, that's a basic technical skill. We can screen for that. Then the construction unions told us we need people who know something about construction and want to do this work… we’ll teach them the technical skills.”
Aimee continues to point out that although workforce development seems straightforward, it has other nuances, like a participant completing training, but not having stable transportation to make it to job sites. Having stable transportation to a job that will become a career, helps people take steps toward economic mobility. Aimee says it was essential to include wraparound services in this undertaking and make a clear path for those with transportation constraints to obtain a driver's license as a mechanism to success in the long run.
Aimee noted that Syracuse Build and Pathways to Apprenticeship owes much of its success to its leaders, Ebony Farrow (Pathways Program Manager) and Chris Montgomery (Syracuse Build Director) as well as the employers, unions, and participants who make what could be a complicated process run smoothly. She noted it was her experience within broken systems and seeing people suffer for preventable reasons like not having enough to eat, that is what helps her to work collaboratively in finding solutions and innovations in her work now. In addition to Syracuse Build, CenterState CEO works in collaboration with the Mayor’s Syracuse Surge initiative to help more women and BIPOC secure and retain jobs in Tech, Advanced Manufacturing, and Digital Customer Service in Central New York.