A Better Life Built through the Big Step Program

Marcus Foster relocated to Minnesota from Marks, Mississippi. When he arrived at the doors of the Minneapolis Urban League (MUL), he was not at a good place in his life. He was sleeping in his car on and off, had no particular job skills, and when he could find work, his pay was barely above minimum wage. Marcus wanted a better job and a better life for himself.

After attending MUL’s workforce orientation and learning about the different programs, Marcus decided he’d be best suited for a job in construction. Jan Williams, former Construction Programs Manager for MUL, saw that Marcus was highly motivated and offered him an opportunity to participate in the Urban League’s Big Step program.

Big Step equips underemployed and unemployed job seekers with skills and competencies required for the construction trades, with a specific focus on highway heavy construction. Basic skills testing is an early component of the program. Big Step also provides financial literacy training, so participants can make wise decisions about spending and saving their hard-earned money. This ensures participants are set up to succeed.

After being informed that he was accepted into Big Step, Marcus says, “The beautiful thing is I asked Mr.Williams for a chance and he gave it to me.” After completing the class and testing requirements,Marcus arrived early for the bus to the Laborers Training Center in Lino Lakes, MN. He saw this part of his journey as “opportunity knocking at my door.” Jan Williams said to him, “How you perform in class will determine how you move forward.”

During his training at LTC Marcus fully engaged himself, listening intently to his teachers, reading his study guides at home, and asking questions. His assertiveness gained the respect of his teachers and classmates. In the end, the same drive and determination he had shown upon entering the program helped earn him the job in construction he sought.

Marcus graduated from LTC and immediately started work the next day, earning $27 per hour. There would be a tough road ahead though. Marcus shared that most of his co‐workers would not speak to him when he first started. He was afraid some of the sites where he was assigned to work would lay him off because of his skin color. Despite his doubts, Marcus took his newfound skills and determination and applied them to the job. He was an observant worker, learning all he could, consistently working hard and performing above average.

Today, Marcus has reached journeyman laborer status, having obtained the skills to lay concrete, water and sewer piping. He is also skilled in demolition, landscaping, skid loader and other machineryoperation.

On his off days, Marcus will often stop by the MUL to say hello. He believes that giving back to the place that supported him may just help the next person walking through the doors. You may even see Marcus stopping into a Tuesday workforce orientation to share his personal testimony of his experience in MUL’s Big Step construction program. Marcus will tell new participants, “I came here to find my ‘gateway to opportunity,’ and in the Big Step program, I found it.”

The MUL’s Big Step Program is made possible through funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and supported by affiliated union members of the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. To learn more, visit our Employment and Training

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