By SHERI GASSAWAY
St. Louis – The Building Union Diversity (BUD) program celebrated the graduation of its 21st class here June 3 while announcing plans by the Missouri AFL-CIO to replicate the highly successful pre-apprenticeship training model in other areas of the state.
The BUD program, which boasts a 92 percent graduation rate, began in 2014 as a recruitment tool to encourage more minorities and women to get into the union building trades. The five-week program offers pre-apprentices the opportunity to visit local building trade unions to give them basic training and a feel for each of the trades.
More than 100 people attended the graduation June 3 at the IBEW Local 1 Union Hall in St. Louis. Of the 12 graduates, two were already employed when they received their diplomas, and the program just ended May 28. The 10 other graduates were able to interview with contractors after the ceremony, and some were hired on the spot.
“Working with the BUD program has been very rewarding,” said Russ Signorino, BUD program director. “When we hear back from our graduates, many tell us it’s been a life-changing experience. And we’ve been seeing more and more graduates come back to serve as BUD mentors and refer others to the program, and that’s what we want.”
Based on the success of the BUD program, the Missouri AFL-CIO has created an affiliated non-profit organization called the Missouri Works Initiative. Its goal, like the BUD program, is to increase construction trade participation among traditionally underrepresented groups, including minorities and women.
EXPANSION OF THE PROGRAM
In April, the Missouri Works Initiative took over the BUD program in St. Louis and this fall will use the existing expertise to replicate and expand the program to other areas of the state, including Springfield and Kansas City. Last month, the initiative received a $400,000 grant from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development to help with expansion efforts.
The Missouri Works Initiative is uniquely positioned to take on the role of expanding pre-apprenticeship programs statewide because of its partnerships and connections across Missouri with Organized Labor, registered apprenticeship program coordinators, contractors and employers.
Greta Bax, the initiative’s director, is an attorney who joined the Missouri AFL-CIO in 2018 to work on the federation’s Dislocated Worker Program, which helps in the transition from layoff back to work.
In doing that work, Bax pondered how the Missouri AFL-CIO could do more in the workforce development space and improve outcomes for all Missourians. She met with Missouri AFL-CIO President Jake Hummel and Secretary-Treasurer Merri Berry to brainstorm ideas.
PERFECT ENTRY POINT TO CONSTRUCTION TRADES
“That conversation led to us taking over the existing BUD program and beginning the process of building out the model into Kansas City and Springfield,” Bax said. “It’s a great program and a great model, and provides a perfect point of entry to the construction trades.”
Since 2014, the BUD program, which was launched by the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, has helped 250 St. Louisans land careers in the union construction industry. Of the participants, 84 percent were minorities, 22 percent were women and seven percent were veterans.
During the pre-apprenticeship program, BUD participants receive free hands-on training – with no industry experience required. They work and learn alongside industry experts, gain awareness of different construction trades, learn OSHA/safety standards and connect directly with employers upon graduation.
Unions participating in the BUD program are Bricklayers Local 1, Cement Masons Local 527, IBEW Local 1, Iron Workers Local 396, Missouri Kansas Laborers District Council, Operating Engineers Local 513, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 and the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council.
Jake Hummel, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, congratulated the BUD graduates at the June 3 ceremony and thanked everyone involved for making the program work, including the Metropolitan Sewer District, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the United Way of Greater St. Louis, union contractors and mentors.
“This is a pretty monumental step,” Hummel said to the graduates. “I’m an electrician by trade, and I don’t know what I’d be doing in life if I didn’t get into the electricians union. There are very few industries like unionized construction that can provide, quite frankly, life-changing employment, pensions that are now almost non-existent, health insurance and the ability to provide your family with a good source of income.”
The next BUD program in St. Louis begins on June 28. Those interested in participating can contact Signorino at 314-303-6082. For more information, visit budprogram.com.
More information will follow at moworksinitiative.org. Stay tuned for further updates on all the new developments taking place with the Missouri AFL-CIO and Missouri Works Initiative.