This article originally appeared on MassLive.com

SPRINGFIELD – When Gabriel Cordero of Holyoke looks back on the first 35 years of his life, he sees a lot of wasted time.

When he looks forward, he sees opportunity and a future in the construction trades.

“I have direction now,” he said Wednesday.

The Community Works Building Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Program graduated Cordero and 12 others in late December at ceremonies at Holyoke Heritage State Park.

The pre-apprentiship program serves the people of Springfield and Holyoke by bringing no-traditional workers — that is women and minorities — into the union construction trades.

Project director Pam Howland said its a six-week, 240-hour course that covers employment basics like punctuality, construction math, blueprint reading and and how to do a job interview.

Students also earned certificates of value to employers like the OSHA 10-hour construction safety course, first aid and CPR, lifting and hoisting, traffic flagging, emergency communication, scaffolding assembly and signaling for heavy equipment.

Community Works is part of the Labor/Management Workplace Education Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst with more than 30 partners including the cities of Holyoke and Springfield, the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, FutureWorks, Career Point, organized labor, MGM Springfield, and construction companies including Daniel O’Connell’s Sons Inc.

This Holyoke classes met most of the time in the Picknelly Adult & Family Education Center. Classes also met at the Carpenter’s Union training facility at Springfield Technical Community College and at the Laborer’s Union training center in Hopkinton.

The Commonwealth Corp., a quasi-public agency, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation fund the pre-apprenticeship program’s $130,000 annual budget, Howland said.

This year’s class brought the total number of graduates to 74 since the program’s inception in 2013. Of the 61 who graduated prior to Wednesday, Howland said, 50 have unsubsidized jobs on regular business payrolls. Of those 50, 18 are apprenticed to in construction trade unions and earning while they learn.

Howland said opportunities will only increase with the ongoing Interstate 91 rehab in Springfield and the upcoming MGM Springfield casino project in the south end.

“We have a great relationship with MGM Springfield,” Howland said.

State Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, said the economy has improved the point where construction workers are in demand.

“You have opened a door,” Vega said. “And behind that door is more work. They are going to want you.”

Steven A. Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO was one of the graduation speakers.