This fall, the ABC-affiliated Greater Michigan Construction Academy (GMCA) is kicking off a new electrical training program in Saginaw Township Community Schools and will follow it up with another program in 2017 for students in the areas surrounding Frankenmuth, Mich. GMCA already has been offering skilled trades training at Midland Public Schools for two years. Students entering the program as juniors earn two years of the required four-year equivalency to become an apprentice by the time they graduate—at no cost.

GMCA has been able to expand its reach since being accredited as an institution of higher education by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET) in April 2015. GMCA is the first vocational school in the country to achieve this designation. It applies to carpentry, electrical, HVAC, industrial maintenance mechanic, instrumentation, insulation, ironwork, masonry, millwright, pipefitting, plumbing, sheet metal and welding programs at GMCA’s Midland and Lansing campuses. The accreditation process took three and a half years at a cost of about $5,000.

“ACCET requires a number of different policies and procedures that have contributed to GMCA’s success as a top-notch facility,” says Stephanie Davis, GMCA’s vice president of workforce development and training. Examples include up-to-date educational programs, fair enrollment practices, community involvement, and student counseling and motivational services.

“This accreditation opens the door for more students, as we will be able to accept federal funding,” Davis says. “The students who come through our academy appreciate the 75 percent of hands-on training that the curriculum offers. We are excited to watch the program grow.”

In addition to the public school system, GMCA is hard at work in the community—collaborating with the Saginaw County Business & Education Partnership to create a Safe Neighborhoods program that helps ex-felons get back on their feet, as well as partnering with the Saginaw Community Action Committee on an Urban Builders Academy for impoverished residents.

This summer, GMCA joined forces with Lansing-based Consolidated Electrical Contractors and Homeless Angels to offer an entry-level class exposing the homeless community to training opportunities in carpentry, electrical, plumbing and welding so they can build a skill set and find employment. Participants in the Building Opportunities for People program will receive an NCCER Core Certification, as well as build benches to be placed in the community as part of a group project. They also will have access to employers looking to hire apprentices.

“In designing this program, we wanted to ensure that the investment we made would reap long-term benefits for all involved,” says Corey Hannahs, vice president of operations at Consolidated Electrical Contractors. “Providing students with construction skills will give them tools they can use for employment anywhere they want to go and those skills can never be taken away. It is our hope that this program gives these individuals and their families an improved path to a more sustainable way of life.”

Joanna Masterson is senior editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email or follow @ConstructionMag.