Tactics to Expand Diversity and Inclusion in the Workforce: Mentoring and Apprentice Programs

I remember taking a career test when I was in middle school. The outcome? I had a supposed interest in becoming a forest ranger. This seemed odd to me--in that I lived in a large metropolitan city and had never been in a forest. Maybe those diagnostic tests work, maybe they don’t, but one sure fire way to help a high schooler identify a career path is through mentoring and apprentice programs.

As I consider diversity and inclusion in the design and construction workplace, my thoughts land on early exposure to the possibilities. Mentoring and apprentice programs are invaluable tools in bringing more young people into the professions of architecture and engineering, as well as construction and the trades. As the Façade Tectonics Institute explores its role in the diversity and inclusion discussion, it may be helpful to learn more about some of the programs that currently exist in our industry.

The Ace Mentoring Program

The first program to catch my eye was the ACE Mentoring Program, which was founded in 1994. This program is designed to attract high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction, including skilled trades. According to the ACE website, over 10,000 students participate in the program annually and one-third of the participants are female. More than 4100 volunteer industry professionals work with student teams engaged in a 35-hour long simulation to design and construct a project.

The American Institute of Architects is one of the sponsors of the ACE Program, and the National Organization of Minority Architects recently became a national partner. Approximately $2.5 million in scholarships are awarded annually to high school senior and alumni studying to pursue industry-related careers.


To learn more about apprenticeships, I spoke with Simon Hazelwood and Alice Gwinn of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. Simon, a commercial specialist located in Toronto, told me he attends the American School Counselor Conference so that he can increase his interaction with high school counselors. What a great idea—meet counselors, tell them about apprenticeship programs where high school graduates can learn a trade without incurring massive debt. As Simon says, “Earning (a wage) while learning (a trade).” These trades include drywall finishing, floor covering, industrial and commercial painting, residential and commercial glazing, and architectural metal installation.

Simon directed me to the iupathub.com website to see videos on the different apprentice programs. When he attends career fairs, he can give prospective students a virtual reality experience. For those interested in glazing, there is a virtual installation of a curtain wall. In real life, glazing contracting companies play a critical part in the apprentice program. They provide on-the-job training and experience, and often participate in classroom education.

Even Before High School Graduation

The IIUPAT’s Finishing Trades Institute of the Mid-Atlantic Region is partnering with the Philadelphia School District on a Vocational Intern Partnership (VIP) Program. This program is created to educate and provide hands-on experience in painting, drywall finishing and glazing to students in their Junior and Senior years of high school. The goal of the program is to provide students in the inner city an opportunity to experience the building trades firsthand.

The program is 14 weeks long and students attend the Finishing Trades Institute on specified days during the regular school week. Topics of instruction include trade math, labor history, blueprint reading and soft-life-skills including interview preparation. Additionally, students enrolled in this program can receive recognized construction-wide industry certifications, such as, OSHA 10, Scaffold Erector Dismantler and First Aid/CPR.

College Degree Programs

The Mid-Atlantic Region has developed a new alliance with the Penn State World Campus, whereby students can earn Penn State credits through the Finishing Trades Institute in Philadelphia. The first course in the Bachelor of Science in Labor and Human Resources degree program is being taught online in fall 2021 with on-site support from Penn State faculty. The 3-credit Introduction to Labor and Human Resources course will examine the role of labor and employment relations.

Diversity and Inclusion

Programs that offer mentoring and apprenticeship can be effective tools to bring students into architecture, engineering, and construction, but it’s the collaboration between these programs and other organizations that often ensures success. For instance, IUPAT works with the West Virginia Women Work to support women in West Virginia to earn a living wage, but Women Work helps women with childcare issues that can sometimes thwart a woman’s entry into the workforce.

Professional Women in Construction (PWC) is a 40-year-old nonprofit that promotes diversity within the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. Women in this organization support each other, as there may be special challenges to their work in these male-dominated fields.

In general, mentoring can lead to the ultimate success of a young professional new to the working world. Navigating the challenges of projects, teams, deadlines, and client demands is not the same thing as the university experience. Mentors within a firm are important to provide guidance and support. In addition, mentorship may help to forge a stronger commitment to the company.

What can the Facade Tectonics Institute do?

The Facade Tectonics Institute welcomes everyone interested in facades, but we want to explore ways of being more diverse and inclusive as an organization. This may involve our own membership outreach, as well as collaboration with outside organizations on programs that mentor young people. Our present organization is made up of a broad swath of the building industry, including architects, façade consultants, engineers, glazing contractors, general contractors, suppliers, academics, and students. The challenge before us is to attract more women and minority participants within these categories. In this way, we will not only talk-the-talk about diversity and inclusion, but we will also demonstrate in a tangible way our commitment to these principles.

This is the personal opinion of Valerie Block, LEED AP, CDT and does not reflect the views of Facade Tectonics Institute.

Photo of Valerie Block, LEED AP, CDT

Valerie Block, LEED AP, CDT

Executive Director

Facade Tectonics Institute

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