As I’ve said elsewhere, it is very encouraging to see the Extollo team working together to take advantage of this time to focus on strategic, organization-building initiatives. As you can imagine, the campus closure and shelter-in-place has been very disruptive. Yet, it is providing us with incredible opportunities to work on projects that I am confident will produce dividends for many years to come.
While Extollo’s focus has been entry-level training courses in the construction trades, and small construction projects as our bandwidth allows, we increasingly talk about ourselves as a burgeoning trade school and construction company. We’re not yet an accredited trade school, nor a fully functional construction company, but this is what we aspire to be - and much of our efforts are leading us towards these two main goals. For when we become both we will be substantially more impactful and thus more capable to fully fulfill our mission.
Since we aspire to become an accredited trade school and an innovative construction company, here are the ways we are working now in pursuit of these goals:
Building on our proven Level 1 (entry-level) training program and curriculum, we’re now ready to build on that success to develop a broader training program that will ultimately lead to accreditation by NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research), the international gold-standard in accreditation for construction trades education. We’re thankful to have recently received a grant that will enable us to develop our Level 2 program infrastructure (procedures, systems, and curriculum) for masonry, concrete, and electrical, as well as build the framework for our overall trade school program towards NCCER standards. If anyone reading this would like to lend a hand with building this framework/road map, please let us know.
A core part of our training curriculum is a character development component that focuses on the cultivation of the whole person. In conversations with our partners in the construction industry, a common thread that emerged was a desire for construction workers that not only had technical competency but character traits such as integrity, good work ethic, and interpersonal skills. As a Christ-centered social enterprise that has these values at our core, we consider this part of our training program as one of our strengths. We are now in the process of evaluating and updating this character development program to be more contextualized for the Haitian context and expand on the good content we are already using. Our General Manager, Junior, has much experience in this area and he is leading the charge on this initiative.
Building and launching our Alumni Program is a key initiative. An alumni association/program will not only help our students find jobs, build their professional network, and give them opportunities for continuing education, but also build a community of support based on core values that, again, cultivate the whole person. We believe a pathway from Extollo’s training to employment in the construction industry is one of the best chances our graduates have to gain a career and reach their God-given potential. Our graduates will be more competitive in the job market through access to the benefits of an alumni program/association that provides them with access to job opportunities, ongoing training/support/encouragement, and the ability to network with other alumni and Extollo’s partners in the construction industry. In our thinking so far, the Alumni Program has three (3) annual meetings that include a job fair, guest speakers, pastoral care, professional networking, leadership development, and entrepreneurship training. Additionally, alumni will receive weekly communication throughout the year through social media and text messages regarding job postings, resources for job search, personal finance, leadership, and spiritual guidance. As with all we do, if you have interest and experience that would be helpful, please let us know.
Of the larger initiatives we’re currently working on is, last but not least, our plans to build a Metal Fabrication Facility. Leveraging the experience and expertise of Jeff Ballard, this Metal Fab Facility will not only be a significant leap forward for our welding training program (and may become the core of our accredited trade school) but will also generate revenue that will be folded back into our training programs. This will (1) help us train more men and women living in extreme poverty since we significantly subsidize the course fee (~90%) for those who otherwise would not be able to afford it, and (2) move us closer to financial self-sustainability.
Sherm Balch has been hard at work on the designs and production plans for our tilt-up house and security fence panel initiatives. As many readers know, Sherm is an internationally recognized expert in tilt-up construction and received the industry’s highest award in 2011 for setting the standard of excellence and innovation in tilt-up construction. In my (humble) opinion, I can think of no other person better suited for introducing tilt-up construction technology to Haiti.
Working with architects to finalize house designs specifically for those living in extreme poverty, these houses built using tilt-up construction will withstand natural disasters, be resilient to the tropical climate, utilize materials readily available in Haiti, and have the potential for numerous options (solar power, water catchment, etc). Additionally, Sherm is developing the design for a panelized security wall that, like the house, can be built on Extollo’s campus, transported to the location, and erected and assembled on site. We plan to construct a large portion of our security wall on the Extollo campus using these wall panels, with each panel showcasing a different design. Pouring the panels on site serves a double purpose as students in our level 2 Concrete Course will gain hands-on experience by doing the actual rebar placement, concrete pouring, and finishing of these concrete panels.
Once the construction designs are finalized we’ll develop step-by-step instructions (sheets and videos) to assist and guide training for the work crews we’ll hire once production begins. We are confident these houses, security walls, and tilt-up construction in general could be a game-changer for Haiti. We’re grateful for the opportunity to use our skills and resources to help Haiti build a stronger future.
As we pick up speed with our Level 2 training program once our campus reopens (contingent upon the health and security situation in Haiti), we will begin recruiting work crews composed of our top Level 2 “graduates” that will work on revenue generating construction projects both on and off campus. This will not only give these burgeoning construction professionals critical on-the-job training at Extollo’s level of quality but will also build Extollo’s capacity to respond to the high demand for our construction services, thus generating more revenue for our training programs. This will create a virtuous cycle that will help propel our mission forward.
We are grateful to God for this vision for how Extollo can help Haitians build a stronger future for Haiti and for our many friends and champions who are committed to helping ensure this vision comes to fruition. It is by God’s grace and the hard work of many - students, alumni, donors, volunteers, staff, local leadership - that is the key to Extollo’s success. Thank you for joining us in this work.