By TIM ROWDEN
The first class of the St. Louis Entertainment & Event Industry Apprenticeship Program got under way last month with a group of 13 participants learning the basics of decorators and displaymen at the America’s Center.
In coming weeks and months, they will also get an introduction to the skill sets of stagehands and projectionists, working as extras where possible and learning the skills to work in the entertainment and event industry.
Explore St. Louis, the city’s convention and visitors commission, and the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) are participating in a federal grant program to train people to become union stagehands, projectionists and decorators.
Participating unions include: Decorators & Displaymen Local 39, IATSE Local 6 (Stagehands) and IATSE Local 143 (Projectionists).
The program, the first of its kind in the nation, is helping build on the current skilled labor force working events at America’s Center, as well as assisting in diversifying the union workforce giving opportunities to women and minorities to learn the necessary skills to work within the convention and trade show exposition business.
Participants will work as casuals while learning the various trades. The unique cross-training opportunity the program offers means apprentices and journeymen stagehands, projectionists and decorators will be able to work across disciplines, working wherever they’re needed.
“What they’re learning is the fundamentals,” said Frank Condellire, business manager for Decorators and Displaymen Local 39. “They’re learning basic procedures such as how you unload trucks safely and load trucks safely, floor layouts. They’re going to be doing everything from exhibits and displays, partition walls, the tools that hold the draperies, skirting, metal display work and OSHA training. This is the basic stuff that an apprentice can help a journeyman do.”
Some of the apprentices got an opportunity to work alongside journeymen recently in the set up for the St. Louis Auto Show.
They’ll learn other skills and learn from the other unions in the months ahead.
“They’re going to be entertainment technicians,” said Steven Conner, president of Local 39. “If it’s a trade show or a concert or the Winter Classic, these guys are going to be able to do the work that is required of them.”
A LONG-TERM PROCESS
“This is a long-term process,” said Jim Delaney, director of Labor Relations at the America’s Center. “This isn’t a ‘one weekend and they’re all trained.’ This is an ongoing project. We’re going to train them in all facets of those three disciplines, of the work that all three unions perform. Obviously, they’re going to have to start very basic and learn from the ground up.
“We’re stressing safety, both of themselves and looking out for each other, because anybody that comes into this work environment has to be very safety conscious because there are lot of moving parts going around.”
To that end, the apprentices are receiving OSHA 10 training and learning from journeymen.
“We’re also going to continue to work on other skill sets that the other unions have, which is more production oriented. They’re going to learn production terminology, standard operating procedures. They’re going to learn how to do things correctly. That’s the focus of this program right now — to bring people into this field that can actually help us, and also, it helps them to.”
MODELED AFTER SUCCESSFUL BUD PROGRAM
The St. Louis Entertainment and Event Industry Apprenticeship Program is developed under Department of Labor guidelines standards and is modeled on the St. Louis Building Trades Council’s Building Union Diversity (BUD) program which has proven successful in recruiting women and minority apprentices looking for opportunities in the building trades.
The program is made possible through a U.S. Department of Labor grant to SLATE under the Compete Midwest Initiative that was put forth by a coalition of three urban, Midwest, workforce development partners – SLATE and its counterparts in Milwaukee and Detroit.
TRAINING AND CROSS-TRAINING
Apprentices will train in OSHA safety and procedures, St. Louis Hospitality and Customer Service, technical skills like forklift, boom and scissor lift operation and will cross-train in the skills of the various unions, which include both audio/visual production and exhibitor set up.
Because work in the trade show and entertainment industry can be irregular, the idea is to provide participants with skills to work across disciplines.
“There are times when you need 350 people, but not every week,” said Joe Rudd, business manager for Stagehands (IATSE) Local 6.
A large event like the Presidential Debate or a Beyoncé concert might take 300-350 people to set-up and run, Rudd said, but during the down time between events those extras need to find other work.
“What we realized is, if the decorators can keep these people on the preferential list, if the projectionists can keep these guys on the preferential list and we can do the same, then maybe we can keep them around long enough that they can make a living and hopefully pick one of those trades that they want to go into.”
That’s where the cross-training comes in.
“What we’re trying to do is train new people in all three trades so that they have an opportunity to work more steadily than they would working with just one,” said Gordon Hayman, business manager for Projectionists (IATSE) Local 143.
“This is an effort to get a group of people who have the base skills in all three trades so we can start the process of training them to become journey people,” Hayman said. “It’s at least a three-year program for most of these people if they make it through each phase of it.”
Nathan Jackson has worked in the entertainment industry before. He had his own company, A Little Sumthin’ Sumthin’ LLC.
“I’m familiar with the components as it relates to the stage and the audio-visual. I understand the components of set-up and tear-down, but this is a whole other animal,” Jackson said. “This is being done at a much larger level that what I had. It’s a lot more sophisticated.”
Jackson said he learned about the program while attending a job fair in Ferguson. He was working at a bank at the time and had gone to the job fair to network because he was looking for a change.
That’s when a representative from SLATE asked him if he’d be interested in learning a trade. When he learned that the trade could lead to setting up or working concerts and other events, he was hooked.
“I thought, there may be something I can learn from this,” he said. “It’s an ongoing learning experience. This is real world experience. This is top of the food chain. If Beyoncé is coming here and I get to help set up for that, I don’t understand how it can get any bigger than that.”
‘A GREAT PERSPECTIVE’
Erin Hinkle had worked in post-production and film production, but he had trouble finding work when he moved back to St. Louis from Atlanta, GA. He contacted SLATE and was referred to the Entertainment & Event Industry Apprenticeship Program.
“It’s not ideally what I’m used to as far as the creative side of things, but it is giving me opportunity — getting first-hand knowledge, getting my hands dirty, as far as the process. It’s a different side of the entertainment business and the entertainment industry.
“I like to travel because I believe it gives me a great perspective,” Hinkle said. “This is an opportunity that gives me a great perspective as far as the industry is concerned and I’m actually a part of it.”
Todd Hoffmann learned about the program through his brother, a union iron worker who works as a decorator when ironwork is slow.
“I hated my last job,” Hoffman said. “I’m from a real union strong family. My grandpa was a carpenter. My uncle and two cousins were electricians. I’m a journeyman cabinet maker. I needed a job and this is lots of hands-on.
“Everyone is really friendly. If somebody says something and you don’t get it, they’ll take the time and explain it until you get it.
“I will always do some form of trade,” Hoffman said. “I’m not cut out for office work. It’s just not me. If this puts money in my pocket, it keeps me employed.”
To learn more, or sign-up call SLATE at (314) 589-8000 and ask for special projects.
Tagged America’s Center, Decorators & Displaymen Local 39, Explore St. Louis, IATSE Local 143 (Projectionists), IATSE Local 6 (Stagehands), SLATE, St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment, St. Louis Entertainment & Event Industry Apprenticeship Program