How BLOC Foundation (Black Ladies of Construction) is working to help women of color break into sector

Elizabeth-based organization among 10 groups to share $4.8M in grants from NJBUILD program at DOL

Natasha Davis has been in the construction business for more than a decade.

“I’m a general contractor,” she said.

The role is hardly unique to the industry. Davis, however, is.

For years, Davis often has been the only women of color on the job — or competing for jobs.

Knowing the potential of the industry — and the need for solid, steady work in her community — Davis decided to take action.

She created Black Ladies of Construction, also known as the “BLOC Foundation” — a full-service construction company that also offers an education component to help more women, minorities, veterans and high school dropouts find their way into the field.

That effort got a boost this week when BLOC was one of 10 organizations to share in $4.8 million in grant funding from the Department of Labor & Workforce Development through its NJBUILD program, which aims to increase access to construction trades careers.

The BLOC Foundation, which is based in Elizabeth, was awarded two NJBUILD grants:

  • $473,756 for Women and Minorities in Construction;
  • $376,020 for Women and Minority Veterans in Construction;

Davis said the money will help her bring dozens more potential workers into her 12-week program.

“The grant will help us expand immediately,” she said.

That’s the plan, according to Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.

“The NJBUILD program is designed to empower underrepresented communities by providing comprehensive training and support,” he said. “This program not only opens the doors to lucrative careers in construction, but also fosters diversity and inclusion in the industry, creating a more equitable and dynamic workforce.”

Over the past six years, the state has invested nearly $73 million through grant programs to create and develop work-based learning, preapprenticeship and apprenticeship programs across the state.

Bill Mullen, president of the New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council, which received funding through the NJBUILD veterans program, championed the cause.

“The NJBUILD program recruits and provides skilled training for women and minority veterans who are in search of a rewarding career in the building trades,” he said. “They sacrifice their lives for us, and we owe them more than a handshake upon returning home.”

Providing opportunity is what BLOC is all about, Davis said.

The program, which is free of charge, teaches the skills and understanding of hand tools, power tools, reading drawings, hanging sheetrock, painting and overall safety of working in construction, Davis said.

BLOC, which has had 30 students graduate from the training program, currently has two cohorts — one consisting only of women of color, and the other being a 16-24 age group.

The NJBUILD grant not only will enable Davis to start additional cohorts, it will enable the students in them to receive a stipend to help with necessary support services, potentially transportation and child care.

Davis said the goal is for her students is to earn their NCC certificate through BLOC — and also earn OSHA certification at the conclusion of the program. From there, they can enter an apprenticeship program (Davis said she works with Pinnacle Group, Turner, the Port Authority and Associated Builders and Contractors) or join the job site.

“If they do well with the tools, we can then put them on a job site, we do teach them how to hang sheetrock, how to paint, all that stuff,” she said.

Those jobs often come through BLOC.

In addition to being a training outlet for people with no background in construction, BLOC also serves as a full-service construction company. The company works on both residential and mixed-use projects in Essex and Union counties.

Residentials spaces range from single-unit dwellings to multifamily buildings with up to 24 units. She also does mixed-use projects.

Davis said her interest in helping comes from the challenges she faced while trying to find her footing in a male-dominated industry.

“I did not have a lot of resources,” she said. “I first started working with women only because, once women started seeing what I was doing, they said, ‘I’ve always wanted to do that, and I don’t know how.’

“I realized I needed to figure out how I can give them the proper education and certifications that they need.”

Thanks to a grant from NJBUILD, those challenges just got a little easier, Davis said.

“I want to be able to provide something stronger and make sure that I can really set them up for success,” she said. “I want to create a space where others can have opportunities.”

The complete list of grantees:

Women and Minorities in Construction

  • United Community Corp.: $900,000
  • Team Walker: $539,190
  • BLOC Foundation: $473,756
  • Urban League of Essex County: $447,267
  • Myers Crossing LLC: $370,800
  • Eagle Training Academy: $366,000
  • Institute for Contemporary Careers: $141,120

Women and Minority Veterans in Construction

  • J. Building and Construction Trades Council: $600,000
  • BLOC Foundation: $376,020
  • Ideal Institute of Technology: $361,211
  • Installations 3 Construction Training Program: $277,440