Executive Director – Leader – Change Maker
About Andrew Cortés
Andrew Cortés describes himself as an introvert who prefers to spend quiet time alone in the wilderness, but his desire to help those less fortunate has been heard loud and clear since he moved to Rhode Island from California more than 20 years ago.
A change-maker and educator, he is the founder and executive director of Building Futures, an organization that meets employers’ and industries’ needs for skilled workers through the Registered Apprenticeship system, while creating family-sustaining career opportunities for low-income diverse community members in Rhode Island.
His passion for creating opportunities for BIPOC individuals that are experiencing poverty stems from his own experiences growing up.
At just 15 years old he dropped out of high school and was living on his own in California. As a Latino teen, he understood the value of education. He developed his own curriculum based on his interests and received state approval to provide for his own education. One year later, he took the state equivalency exam and received his high school diploma.
His career path began when he was hired by a contractor and joined the Carpenter’s Union, entering a registered apprenticeship program at 17 years old. He didn’t have any concrete occupational skills, but he knew how to work hard, how to survive and was eager to learn. Armed with those tools, he became a union carpenter, a career that provided Cortés a pathway out of poverty.
After honing his skills as a carpenter for more than a decade in the Bay Area, he moved to Rhode Island more than two decades ago. One of his first jobs in the Ocean State was doing finish carpentry at the Providence Place Mall.
However, his values and passions took him on a different route. He used his tools to help others.
After rebuilding YouthBuild Providence, he then established a new program to help others at a larger scale. His goal was simple – to provide a bridge that connects good-paying union construction employment with low-income people who need real careers, not dead-end jobs.
In 2007, Cortés began Building Futures, which operates a comprehensive pre-apprenticeship program for the construction trades and an apprentice utilization program, which is nationally recognized for best practices. Six years ago, he launched the Apprenticeship Rhode Island initiative, which has created apprenticeships for occupations in healthcare, information technology, advanced manufacturing, marine trades, and agriculture/plant-based industries, among others.
Since Building Futures was established, 2,000 apprentices have been placed in good-paying jobs throughout Rhode Island’s many industry sectors.
“I built programs that I could have used. While I figured out my way, many people are not able to do so. I needed to create programs that structure ‘earn while you learn’ experiences so that others could get the same benefits I did,” he said. “Registered Apprenticeship is just a different form of post-secondary education that provides a path to get to full occupational mastery – it is a highly effective model.”
An active member of the community, he continues to serve on several non-profit boards, issue-based task forces and social justice efforts. For the past 18 years he has served on Consortium America’s advisory board for new market tax credits and for 8 years he advised two U.S. Secretaries of Labor on improvements to the National Apprenticeship System. Previously, he advised the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston on issues of community development. He also served on the Providence City Plan Commission for a decade and was appointed to Rhode Island Housing’s Board of Commissioners and served as its chairperson.
Why is Papitto Opportunity Connection and its mission of bettering the BIPOC Communities so important to you?
Quality career paths remain elusive for Rhode Island’s communities of color, which experience poverty at disproportionate rates. People experiencing poverty have devastating results for communities, families, and individuals – all while the need for skilled workers that earn family-sustaining compensation remains unmet. In partnership with POC, Building Futures will provide opportunity by addressing this glaring disconnect, through operating strategic programs that balance our ability to serve the most disenfranchised and ‘hardest to serve’ at a smaller scale, while also improving the employment for BIPOC at a significant scale.
Did you experience a defining moment that triggered your deep desire to help others?
“From the senseless deaths of young adults who lack opportunity to my own experiences of discrimination, life continues to provide me a constant stream of such defining moments. Economic and other forms of oppression are unconscionable; especially when such oppression is justified on the basis of race, ethnicity, culture or class to create an “other.”