Unique pre-apprenticeship program graduates seventh class
By TIM ROWDEN
Four women and five men recently completed the BUD (Building Union Diversity) pre-apprenticeship program. Each of them is looking for a job that can lead to a career.
Their accomplishment, completing the unique pre-apprenticeship designed to bring more women and minority workers into the building trades, was marked with a graduation ceremony at Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) headquarters in St. Louis.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay was among the invited guests. He praised Organized Labor for putting the program together, congratulated the graduates on their accomplishment, and warned them to beware of false promises like so-called “right-to-work.”
“This is a program we’re very proud of,” Slay said. “I’m certainly proud of the Organized Labor community in this town. We are a strong union town and I’m very, very proud of it. You’ve seen people going out there pushing for ‘right-to-work.’ Let me tell you something, that’s not all it’s cracked up to be. We have a very quality, trained workforce here in our city with good benefits and pay and that means a lot to working families in our community. I support our labor unions. I’m against ‘right-to-work.’ I think we can see just from current events and things that are happening the difference that a good job and quality pay and benefits can mean for families. Thanks again for all your work and congratulations.”
The BUD program was launched in 2014 to bring more minority and female workers into the union trades in a unique partnership of the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council, the Eastern Missouri Laborers District Council and St. Louis-Kansas City Regional Carpenters Council, with funding help from the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) and the Missouri Division of Workforce Development.
Participants in the program also receive support from the United Way to help with issues such as car repairs or other problems that may be preventing them from getting or keeping a job.
BUD prepares participants to enter apprenticeships and, with commitment and dedication of their own, begin fulfilling and rewarding careers.
The newest group’s program was paid for by MSD, and the graduation audience included contractors who work on MSD jobs and are interested in hiring program graduates.
Although MSD doesn’t hire the graduates directly, its contractors do. MSD has a diversity goal in its workforce of 30 percent African-American, 30 percent minority and seven percent women.
Vicki Taylor Edwards, director of human resources for MSD, and Shonnah Paredes, manager of MSD’s diversity program both expressed enthusiasm with the latest BUD class.
“We’re excited because this is the biggest class of women we’ve seen so far,” Paredes said.
Jim Duane, manager of the St. Louis Community College Workforce Solutions Group, and Pat Dolan, apprenticeship coordinator for the Missouri AFL-CIO and president of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268 led the instruction, with hands-on experience provided in training centers operated by participating unions. The students worked full-time hours learning the basics of each trade over five weeks.
Dolan praised the graduates and noted their commitment – training full-time without pay for five weeks, learning new skills,
“It is a sacrifice people take for granted but they don’t get paid the whole time they’re here and they have to be here every day,” Dolan said.
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“It’s pretty intimidating when you don’t’ know what the whole construction industry is about or anything about how to get here or what’s going to happen. We started with nine, we have nine here. It’s been rewarding to us to see them get through this program.”
Dolan also praised the union training departments and apprenticeship coordinators for accommodating the students in their regular programs.
The trades participating in the program vary from class to class. This latest class included: operating engineers, plumbers and pipefitters, electricians, carpenters and laborers.
“It’s a sacrifice for them as well,” he said. “They have their training departments and everything is set up, but this is something added in. They have a program for their apprenticeships that are already in. To add our group in, it’s sometimes not quite that convenient for them. Without those training departments this wouldn’t be possible.”
Duane summed up the goal of the program for the students and the organizers.
“The real thing we want is jobs. We want everybody to get jobs.
The BUD program has an 80 percent graduation rate, said John Gaal, director of training and workforce development for the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council. And of those 80 percent, he said 90 percent land jobs with area union contractors, allowing them to indenture into apprenticeship programs.
“This is the most successful construction pre-apprenticeship program in the region,” Gaal said. “Those contractors make those placements possible. That’s the opportunity that this program is all about.”
Gary Elliott, business manager, Eastern Missouri Laborers District Council, told graduates the place they were in was no different from the place he was in when he started his career some 38 years ago trying to embark on a career and earn a living, although he acknowledged that the opportunity the BUD program provides to women and minorities weren’t always there.
“It’s hard for you to respect a system that for so many years you couldn’t get a foothold in. It’s hard to feel a responsibility for even wanting to be a part of that. I’m very proud of how this program has moved forward in bringing things out to the forefront that weren’t here 25 years ago, weren’t here 15 years ago. Hell they weren’t here five years ago. The doors are starting to open up. The opportunity is truly there through the employers, government officials, contractors, the local unions and they’re all here just so people can make a better living, a better way of life and get the training. You’ve just started that. That is going to be a lifelong endeavor. Things change, they get better. And I think that’s going to be the case for you.”
‘I WANT TO MAKE A CAREER’
Marcella Vamboi, 22, found her way to the BUD program after seeing a post on Facebook.
“I saw a post and it said something about construction training to get a new career.”
At the time, Vamboi was working three jobs at Family Dollar, Cracker Barrel and Cuetopia. Her social worker suggested she contact SLATE and officials there directed her to BUD. She quit her job at Family Dollar so she could attend BUD training. She’s hoping to apprentice as a laborer or an electrician.
“I want to make a career,” she said.
Vamboi signed up for BUD with her friend Shalecia Rivers, 20, who had been working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) while raising her two-year-old daughter. She was directed to BUD through SLATE as well.
“I was looking to get into something different. I was interested in construction and this was my opportunity to get some experience,” Rivers said. “It’s hard work, but I’m used to hard work.”
She’s hoping to apprentice as a laborer.
Michele Zimmer, a 40-ish former pharmacy technician, quit that job to get her commercial driver’s license and was looking for a union job when she signed up for BUD.
“I knew I didn’t belong there,” she said of the pharmacy job. “I wanted to get into construction. I wanted a career that paid me adult money.”
Zimmer’s husband, Matt Layton, is a member of IBEW Local 1.
“I knew I wanted to work for a union construction company,” she said. “I feel like I have more of an opportunity now to get a construction job because I’m not just somebody coming off the street with no experience.”
Dawn Fleming learned about BUD while looking up construction careers on Google. “I was looking for a program or course and the BUD program came up.”
The 38-year-old mother of two is trained in medical office administration and human services and last worked in a warehouse but said she always wanted to work in construction. She’s hoping to apprentice as laborer or a carpenter.
“I just got to a point where I wanted to do what I have set in my heart and my mind,” she said. “I don’t’ want to sit in an office. I like hands-on. I like getting dirty.”
A JOB THAT CAN LEAD TO A CAREER
Ronald Stewart, 38, a father of seven, had been working as a forklift operator for an air-conditioning company in Earth City for three-and-a-half years when the company relocated to Miami and he was forced to fall back on handyman work.
“I was working around the neighborhood doing plumbing, electrical work, carpentry.” A friend of his in the neighborhood suggested he look into BUD.
His old job had no benefits and left him with no severance.
“When I left, I had nothing all over again. My goal is to try to have a career and a home for my family. Everyone who is involved in this program actually cares about people getting a job that can lead to a career.”
Dwight Reece, 30, a handy man and father of three, heard about the BUD program through SLATE and saw an opportunity to build a career.
“I knew about apprenticeships but I was never able to get into it. It’s definitely a big doorway opening.”
A REAL TRADE
Deshaun Cothrine, 35, found out about BUD from his son’s mother, who had a friend who had graduated from the program. He’s interested in apprenticing as a carpenter, electrician or laborer.
Cothrine has four children and said, “All of this is for them. It’s a great opportunity for me to get through to the next tier for my goals and aspirations.”
Cothrine said he had worked various jobs and operated a forklift, but “nothing that was a career.”
“I was wanting to go to school for something,” he said. “This is something where I can learn a real trade.”
People interested in signing up for future BUD classes may contact SLATE at (314) 657-3545.