Annys Shin’s story on ethnic employment patterns at local construction projects (“The Crane Drain,” 7/19) quotes union officials and community leaders, including clergy, decrying the fact that not enough African-American residents of D.C. are employed in this thriving industry.

There is no question that many of our young people could and should benefit from career opportunities in the building trades. But as a black pastor who has studied this issue, I believe that the disconnect is not intentionally racial. No valid purpose is served by merely implying that Hispanics are somehow getting preference over African-Americans. We need to confront two facts:

First, the District’s apprenticeship training system is dysfunctional. It rests on a law dating to the 1940s that is antiquated in concept—and poorly administered, to boot. As a result, potential apprentices are discouraged from seeking supervised on-the-job training that leads to real careers, and employers are frustrated when they try to set up programs that meet today’s conditions.

Second, as your story pointed out, vocational training in our city’s high schools has atrophied. As a community, we are failing to familiarize many youngsters with opportunities that exist in the real world of work, and with the skills necessary to take advantage of them.

These problems can be overcome. That is why several local clergymen, representatives of the construction industry, educators, and other interested parties have formed Job Opportunities Build Success (JOBS). Our coalition is working with public officials such as David Catania, chair of the D.C. Council’s Public Services Committee, both to reform the apprenticeship system and to revive vocational training in public schools.

When we achieve these goals, the construction industry’s career ladder will be more accessible to all District residents. I predict that African-Americans will fully share the benefits.


New Commandment Baptist Church