Our investment in Revolution Workshop

Beth Foster-Chao
Beth Foster-Chao April 13, 2022 3 min read

The Autodesk Foundation welcomes Revolution Workshop to its Work & Prosperity portfolio. Revolution Workshop is a nonprofit based in Chicago, Illinois, that builds skills, hope, and resilience by providing construction job training to Chicago’s underserved communities.

The construction industry in Chicago is growing rapidly and new job openings are expected to grow 7% annually through 2026. The industry faces an immediate labor shortage and expects to see the gap between talent demand and supply widen in the years ahead as 57% of construction workers in Chicago approach retirement.  

Despite the city’s racial diversity, Chicago’s construction industry remains largely white, especially in the higher-skilled, better-paying trades. Chicago’s working-age population is 17% Black, but Black individuals represent just 4% of carpenters, 8% of overall trade professionals, and 12% of apprentices. LatinX representation has grown, but LatinX workers are concentrated in the lowest-paying roles and see little career advancement. Nationally, people of color drop out of apprenticeships at twice the rate of White apprentices. 

Increasing racial diversity at all job levels within the trades and providing training to individuals from low-income communities can help address the widespread labor shortage while also building inclusive pathways to family-sustaining careers. However, career advancement in the construction industry is heavily influenced by one’s network, ability to navigate between projects, and access to funds to pay for fees, tools, and transportation. A consequence is that historically under-represented groups and low-income individuals often struggle to move up in the industry. Getting an initial job or slot in an apprenticeship program is just the first step.

Why Revolution Workshop?

Revolution Workshop offers a free pre-apprenticeship program and ongoing career support for individuals transitioning into the construction industry. Through its employer-engagement strategy, Revolution Workshop’s program serves as a pipeline for trained, diverse talent for the area’s skilled-trades employers. 

Revolution Workshop’s holistic training model provides a free 12-week, cohort-based program where 15-25 trainees gain technical skills, industry-recognized certifications, wrap-around services, and construction-specific soft skills. In addition to following best practices for pre-apprenticeship programs, Revolution Workshop has customized its model to reflect the communities it serves. Revolution Workshop trains pre-apprentices from the West and South Sides of Chicago, who are majority Black or LatinX, low-income, and often underemployed.  Revolution Workshop, therefore, supports trainees throughout their career journey by providing “alumni services” to support ongoing advancement in what can be a hard-to-navigate and exclusive industry. These services include transitional employment opportunities between projects through in-house and partner social enterprises, upskilling in advanced technologies, and 1:1 coaching to overcome life and workplace challenges.

To date, over 60 companies have hired talent from Revolution Workshop. These companies include four of the biggest construction firms in Illinois that together earn over $8 billion in annual revenue, as well as smaller firms. For employers, Revolution Workshop has become a go-to source for professional and committed talent for entry-level construction roles and union apprenticeships. Over 200 companies partner with Revolution Workshop to bolster training.

In the four years since Revolution Workshop began placing under and unemployed Chicagoans into family-sustaining job opportunities in construction, it has seen its alumni advance from $17/hour jobs in their first-year post-program to $25/hour jobs by year three. Assuming employment for nine months of the year, this amounts to a wage increase of $11,500 per year. 

Our collaboration to change the face of the construction industry

Revolution Workshop’s program is a highly effective on-ramp into the construction industry. As the nonprofit scales its work in Chicago and eventually nationally, the Foundation will tap into Autodesk expertise to further enhance the strength of Revolution Workshop’s training program. Familiarity with Autodesk tools can give job candidates a leg up on the job site and can lead to salary increases and promotions. Through Autodesk software donations and pro bono support, Revolution Workshop will begin giving trainees exposure to digital blueprint and site collaboration tools as part of the core 12-week program and will offer more advanced training as part of the alumni services program. The Autodesk Foundation looks forward to leveraging this collaboration to train the construction workforce of the future.

Learn more about how Revolution Workshop is advancing social and economic equity and peaceful communities through the construction industry.