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New trade school to open in Westland

A growing number of people interested in learning a skilled trade will have an opportunity starting this fall at a new location in Westland — the first skilled training facility to be funded with state monies.

Southeast Michigan Construction Academy has been offering classes in temporary locations in Westland since 2021 but announced Wednesday it will create a permanent location to provide accredited training for several different construction trades.

SEMCA, which provides training in electrical, carpentry, welding and heavy construction across its five locations, is renovating a 25,000-foot building in Westland to feature hands-on learning space, work labs and classrooms. It will be located in a building at 35600 Central City Parkway, formerly occupied by Dick's Sporting Goods and Garden City Hospital.

Acquisition of the building was supported with a $3 million grant from the state of Michigan to provide opportunities and meet workforce demands, said SEMCA CEO Keith Ledbetter.

Six years ago, there were 186 students in SEMCA's training programs, said Ledbetter. Today, there are more than 600 students.

"There's been a community now embracing skilled trades training and the fact that not everyone has to go to college to get a good-paying job," said Ledbetter. "There's been a huge change in mindset that has impacted us in a really profound way."

SEMCA offers training in Lapeer, Monroe, Genesee County and on its main campus in Madison Heights but the locations are "bursting at the seams," said Ledbetter. The new building in Westland will allow more service to apprentices living and working in Southeast Michigan, Ledbetter added.

This is the first time that the state has earmarked funds for the skilled trade industry for training, said said Jimmy Greene, CEO and president for Associated Builder and Contractors Michigan, a statewide association that represents 1,100 builders and contractors.

The Westland facility is critical for diversifying the skilled trades, which primarily attract White workers, Greene added.

"When we are talking about bringing more minorities into the skilled trades, trying to get someone from Westland into (Madison Heights), you might as well send them to Atlanta, Georgia, with transportation being an issue," said Greene. "Logistics are a huge issue. So when they open up Westland, it is specifically for drawing a different demographic into skilled trades ... we are predominantly a White industry. And if we are not able to populate into urban communities, we are just dancing around this issue. If you want them, you have to go get them. If you want to go get them, you got to train them. If you want to train them, you have to build a facility.

"It's almost a field of dreams: Build it, and they will come," Greene said.

SEMCA saw an opportunity to locate in western Wayne County because it's a long drive for students there to drive to Madison Heights to get training; some may have to drive up to an hour one-way.

"Every classroom is jam-packed," said Ledbetter, noting that overflow for three classes is meeting at the Troy Intermediate School District's career center.

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