In many parts of the country, a serious labor shortage is causing builders to scramble for qualified workers.

At the same time, the national unemployment rate for those aged 20-24 was 11.4 percent in September, a figure which skyrockets to almost 20 percent for 18- and 19-year olds. But a new apprentice program in the Washington, D.C., area is hoping to kill two birds with one stone by seizing the opportunity to match unemployed, under-served youths with construction skills.

Community Hub for Opportunities in Construction Employment (C.H.O.I.C.E.), an office of the North American Building Trades’ Unions serving the National Capital region, has created an apprenticeship-readiness program in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C.-Northern Virginia region. The program will tap 25 unemployed youths aged 18-24 in under-served populations every year for five years.

The program will introduce participants to the different trades in the construction industry such as plumbing, electric, framing and ironwork. Once participants have completed the program, they can choose an apprenticeship in one of the specified trades where they will be matched with an employer. Apprentices will work full-time learning on the job while also attending classes a few nights a week, for which they also get paid.

“There are a ton of huge [housing] projects [in the national capital region]: a few of them have already broken, a few more are on the cusp of breaking,” says C.H.O.I.C.E. executive director Mark Coles says. “This will have a huge impact on starting to get folks trained and ready to go for when these job opportunities hit, which we anticipate will be relatively soon.”

C.H.O.I.C.E. will collaborate with local community organizations to help target individuals best fit for the program. Requirements for participants have not yet been determined, but Coles says the hurdles won’t be very rigorous.

“We understand that a lot of these folks will have some challenges initially, but the idea is to help them work through those challenges and get to a place where they’re ready to come in and start work,” says Coles.