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“An Organization of Second Chances”: The Southwest Mountain State Carpenters Training Fund Brother’s Keeper Program

By Emon Johnson

The Southwest Mountain State Training Fund (SWMSTF) Brother’s Keeper Program invites men 18 and up to attend a four-week boot camp where they learn the basics of carpentry and get a chance to begin a career as a Pre-Apprentice. 

Located at 1010 Sandhill Ave, Carson, CA 90746, The SWMSTF’s Local 323 held its monthly Brother’s Keeper program on July 29, 2023. 

Approximately 90 individuals attend every class, 35 of which are selected to move on to the next round. After four weeks, 70 of the top participants are selected to enter the Pre-apprenticeship program and given special attention and training to prepare them for the trade, identifying the best route for each individual’s unique talents and personality. 

Wesley Crunk, a 24-year general carpenter and the coordinator of the Brother’s Keeper and B.O.O.T.S programs, believes vetting each individual is essential to their success as a carpenter. 

“This craft is [not exactly] difficult, but it’s not for everybody,” he states. “We use our professional opinions and experience to identify which candidates will likely have the most success in the trade.” 

At several workstations throughout the facility, construction drills are simulated to test the candidates’ skills. According to Crunk and several others, success during these drills goes deeper than just hammering nails correctly. 

“We send them through a series of physical construction-related duties, but we’re not looking for skillset,” Crunk states. “We’re looking for hustle, that pep in your step, and a great attitude. We’re also looking at their punctuality”

Bruno Williams, a sixth-stage carpenter, resonates with Crunk’s attitude, comparing the competitive nature of carpentry to military training. 

“Getting laid off [or dying] would be the worst thing that could happen to me, so I try to prepare myself,” Williams states. “Just like in the army, the first thing they teach you is what to do if your partner gets killed or if your gun jams, because those are two scenarios that you’re not ready for coming into the academy. 

He continues, “So in this trade, you get prepared for layoffs. How do you prevent yourself from getting laid off? Make sure you come to work on time. Make sure you come every day. Make sure you hustle. And if you do those three things, you’re guaranteed to survive a lot longer than if you weren’t.” 

Williams, who became a carpenter two-and-a-half years ago and was trained by Crunk, is a year away from becoming a journeyman, the equivalent of a supervisor or higher-ranking carpenter. In California, journeyman carpenters earn an annual income of approximately $64,000 and are competent in the use of several measuring devices, construction tools, and safety equipment.

Crunk, once a two-time convicted felon, now the president of Local 323 and coordinator of the Brother’s Keeper Program, believes the lucrative and rewarding life of a carpenter is possible for anyone interested in the trade. 

 “Our organization is one of second chances. We do not hold your past against you, even if you have a criminal record.”

“While there are some job sites like schools that may not be available to you depending on what you were arrested for, for the most part, 85 to 95% of our job sites: your background won’t come into place. It’s can you do the work? Do you have the attitude to come out here? And are you willing to change whatever characteristics sent you to incarceration?” 

Those interested in joining the union are invited to either call or walk in. 

About the SWMSTF 

Established in 1958, the SWMSTF provides training and lifelong learning to members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Union, an organization serving more than half a million men and women nationwide. Some of the available trades are Concrete Form Carpenters, Drywallers, Lathers, Insulators, Finish Carpenters, Millwrights, Industrial Carpenters, Cabinet Makers, Cabinet Installers, Bridge Builders, and Scaffold Erectors.

Visit their web pages for more information.