Pittsburgh’s construction boom offers a second chance to those who barely had a first one.
By George F. Will Columnist
PITTSBURGH — In the 1940s, Steve Shelton’s grandfather dressed up — white shirt, tie, fedora — to take the streetcar to the steel mill where he would change into work clothes, and would shower before dressing up to return home. “There was,” Shelton says, “such dignity in the trades back then.”
There still is at the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh (TIP) that Shelton launched. There, in what used to be a Westinghouse Electric factory, some men, many in their 30s looking for their first legal jobs, and a few women learn to wield trowels and mortar, thereby deriving from bricklaying (and welding, carpentry and painting) a dignity they did not feel when they grew up on this city’s meanest streets, or when, for 85 percent of them, their incarcerations ended.
Shelton, 59, was 12 when he first was taken to a construction site. “I just wanted to build stuff,” so after enjoying two things in high school (wood shop, metal shop), serving in the Navy and working in the trades, he started a business “out of the trunk of my car.” Eventually, however, he wondered: “Where are all the young guys?” He saw: “Everyone was being pushed to college.” He thought: “Having guys 55 or 60 years old on top of scaffolding, laying bricks, is not sustainable.”
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