Release Date: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation provides $2.1 million grant to meet the need for skilled trades workers

Student in construction lab
Students will learn skills in trades such as the construction, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and manufacturing sectors.

Henry Ford College has received a $2.1 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to help address the growing need for qualified workers in the skilled trades. The funds will support the development of a new Middle College Trade School Program at HFC. This innovative program is designed to streamline education and training processes, and to prepare high school graduates to enter the workforce with in-demand skills. The dual-enrollment program will be provided at no cost to students and their families.

“This generous grant from the Wilson Foundation will benefit our students, and it also represents a substantial investment in the revitalization of southeast Michigan’s workforce,” said Russell Kavalhuna, president of Henry Ford College.

“The Foundation is proud to support Henry Ford College’s innovative program to provide high school students with an early start to community college and access to high quality career and technical education for multiple career pathways that lead to good paying jobs,” said Lavea Brachman, VP of Programs for the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one third of the nation’s skilled trades workers are more than 50 years of age. As they retire, companies struggle to replace them. Tens of thousands of jobs in the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, construction, and manufacturing sectors remain unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers.

Trade school starts this fall

Henry Ford College’s new Middle College Trade School Program is scheduled to enroll 50+ high school students during the 2020-2021 school year. This program allows students from participating districts to undertake courses and practical training at HFC while continuing their regular high school education. They will start their Trade School Program studies as early as 11th grade and will progress toward earning one or more of the following:

  • A Certificate of Achievement
  • An Associate Degree in Applied Science
  • A Michigan Early/Middle College Association Technical Certification
  • Classroom hours toward a journeyman card in a skilled trade of their choice
  • Industry-recognized certification
  • Transferable college credits

“Our program is designed to help students learn by doing,” said Dr. Patricia Chatman, Dean, HFC School of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Professional Development. “It evokes the legacy of the traditional trade school model that combines classroom theory with hands-on experiences in shop labs that simulate real-world, technology-enhanced work environments.”

This program and grant from the Wilson Foundation are also part of HFC’s first comprehensive campaign.

“We are honored to have the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation as our leading partner in the College’s campaign,” said A. Reginald Best, Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Henry Ford College. “Partnerships with regional employers, along with private and corporate foundations, are vital to supporting the growth of our education programs and serving the workforce needs of our region.”

About the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is a grant making organization dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life of the people of Southeast Michigan and Western New York. The two areas reflect Wilson’s devotion to his hometown of Detroit and greater Buffalo, home of his Buffalo Bills franchise. Prior to his passing in 2014, Wilson requested a significant share of his estate be used to continue a lifelong generosity of spirit by funding the foundation that bears his name. The foundation has a grant making capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires Jan. 8, 2035. This structure is consistent with Wilson’s desire for the foundation’s impact to be immediate, substantial, measurable and overseen by those who knew him best. For more information, visit