Wrtitten by Emiene Wright
When Charlotte was ranked last in the nation for upward mobility, Frances Hall looked around the Beatties Ford corridor and felt compelled to action. The licensed mental health counselor saw an unaddressed correlation between stress and economic stability. So in 2016 she founded the Beatties Ford Vocational Trade Center, the first mental health agency and Black-owned trade school in Charlotte.
Why did you focus on vocational training, as opposed to, say academic education?
My life is proof of the fact that learning a trade that garners high wages can change your economic outcome. Through the building arts, I was able to provide a stable financial environment for my children. Construction is the second largest industry in the world, and there is a limited number of skilled craftsmen. Journeymen are aging out: the average age of a licensed electrician is 70. Yet there’s a great need. Cities are booming and we all have to have homes and offices and industrial buildings. Also a lot of mental illness and substance abuse issues are related to economics. There have been studies on deprivation to prove it. Struggling every day just to survive, when you’re surrounded by people in the same boat can cause mental illness and substance abuse. My idea was to kill two birds with one stone.
You’ve been a serial entrepreneur for over 20 years; first with a successful cleaning business, then a masonry firm, before taking on counseling and construction arts. How did that journey look?
I went from cleaning, to building maintenance, to construction. One of my cleaning business clients had a building in SouthPark and I was looking around it. It was clean, but the carpet was raggedy, there were holes in the wall, so I started thinking about maintenance. I joined the minority contractors association and met a guy who did sheetrock. Another did carpeting. So I went to my client and said ‘What if I give you a price to fix up the place? Build a nice employees lounge, raise morale?’ They agreed. The job went so well, I worked with a fellow contractor for over a year and learned how to hang sheetrock and do drywall finishing. Then I went to CPCC and learned to read blueprints. I started bidding for jobs as a minority contractor. A lot of Black businesses are such small shops, they don’t always have the necessary support staff, so I partnered with a contractor and we started bidding together. My first large job was the Marriott hotel in Charleston. I took 50 men from Charlotte with me.
In 2016 a group of minority contractors agreed to assist me to open a trade school where we could teach our crafts to the next generation. Our target population are men and women that live in areas of Charlotte that according to the Chetty Study would be born and die in poverty. Each of the minority contractors that gathered to make this school come into fruition were well aware of the opportunities that having a trade could offer. Our school is a melting pot of students coming for a chance to learn a trade that could lead to a career.
What course work and certifications do you offer?
Our staff includes our Core instructor, electrical instructor, nine additional instructors, career developer, case manager, office administrator and myself. On the mental health side, there are two licensed clinical addiction specialists, four mental health counselors and a psychologist.
We offer metal framing and drywall, carpentry, brick/block masonry, concrete masonry, electrical, heating and air ventilation, blueprint reading/estimating, plumbing, and fiber optics. These are trades that are on the critical paths of construction on any project - residential, commercial or industrial. Our fiber optics class is taught by nationally skilled instructors. In 7 days, you can walk out and make $30 an hour.
Our school is certified by the National Center of Construction Education and Research (NCCER). Students who complete any of our training in a construction craft receive their apprenticeship certification from the NCCER, which is recognized by the construction industry worldwide. This opens the doors for our students to work anywhere in the United States or abroad. I also recently completed my Master Training, which enables me to train journeymen to receive their teaching certification.
What kind of outcomes are you seeing from your students?
We’re a program in the community on the West side, which has the highest poverty rate and highest crime rate in Charlotte. Most of our students are returning home from imprisonment or rehabilitation. They are completing pre-apprenticeship programs, getting into the workforce and earning enough income to take care of their families, making more money legally than anyone they ever knew made on the street. There are other programs, but we’re within walking distance if the car breaks down or you miss the bus.
What does it cost to enroll?
Tuition is $4,000 for six months, including textbooks. NC Works (the unemployment office) and Vocational Rehabilitation (a state program for people with some form of mental or physical disability) are our only funding sources, so if students earn above poverty level they won’t qualify. That bar is very low, less than $13 an hour, and since 2016 we’ve had to turn away hundreds of people who just miss the qualifying marks. It’s heartbreaking. We aren’t eligible for COVID grant money for small businesses because we are a nonprofit school, so we are currently running our Buy a Book, Save a Life campaign for $100 donations, trying to raise scholarship money.
VOTE NOW: Beatties Ford Road Vocational Trade Center is in the running to win $5K this month thanks to the Amy and Brian France Foundation who have partnered with SHARE Charlotte for this year’s Spotlight Series and YOU can help when you VOTE NOW! You can also check out the other organizations eligible to win this month’s prize, here!
For more information, contact Frances Hall, Executive Director
Beatties Ford Road Vocational Trade Center, Inc.
1406 Beatties Ford Road-Charlotte, N.C. 28216
To donate, see the Paypal button on the website.