Building BRT Means Building Local Careers

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It takes a dedicated team of women and men to build the East Bay’s first Bus Rapid Transit system. In fact, you may have seen them working along International Boulevard; the major thoroughfare for the 9.5-mile BRT corridor. Every member of the BRT construction team is a talented architect of change. Yet some team members work under job titles that are far less glamourous than the innovative work they perform daily. Consider Will Smith.

Will’s official job title is Laborer with BRT’s general contractor O. C. Jones & Sons, Inc. Officially, the job description for Laborer includes reading blueprints and designs, operating machinery such as compressors and generators, pouring concrete and assisting construction managers. But the day-to-day responsibilities of reimagining East Bay public transit has taken on duties Will’s job title cannot define. For instance, Will has been working along the BRT corridor implementing the all-important Traffic Control Plan: the placement and use of traffic cones, signs, barriers, arrow boards (the digital traffic signs), and other traffic equipment. Will carefully and methodically sets up how and where traffic and pedestrians will safely move through and around construction areas. In addition to building a resume and expertise in large scale public construction projects, Will embodies how the BRT project is keeping well-paying jobs right here in the community.

Will is literally a native son. The 2001 Skyline High School graduate, grew-up a stone’s throw from International Boulevard. Determined to make Oakland his forever home, Will enrolled and successfully completed the Automotive Technology Training Program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI). Now 34 year’s young, Will credits his tight-knit and hard-working family – some of whom worked in construction – as the keystone for his “on the spot” hire onto the BRT project. As a member of a blended family of 15 brothers and eight sisters, Will had an array of hard working role models from which to choose. As days turned into years, Will watched as his siblings faithfully willed themselves to work; without regard to sleep or physical exhaustion. Will says more than living, tangible examples of integrity and responsibility, “My brothers are like father figures to me.”

A member of Laborers Union Local 304, Will joined the BRT project in November 2016. Prior to assuming the BRT position, Will was a foreman with another commercial construction company. He leapt at the opportunity to join the construction team that would revolutionize public transit as we know it. Will also admits the great hours are whip cream topping on a phenomenal opportunity. He’s on the job just as the sun peeks above the horizon, at 6 a.m., and retires his hard hat at 3 p.m. – just in time to avoid the East Bay’s evening traffic crush.

Will believes, as a member of the BRT team, he’s turning the tide on misconceptions of East Oakland and its residents, “I see what black men in Oakland are facing in terms of high unemployment rates.” His advice to anyone wanting to work in construction: “Take it seriously and get involved because it’s a great field to be in. You start work early and finish early. The pay is great and there are always career advancements. It’s an excellent field.” And an excellent motivation, “One of my favorite moments on the job is the thumbs up I get from people on the corridor!”