‘The best success… is when you all start working’
By TIM ROWDEN
Lisa Ramsay, one of nine trainees who graduated Nov. 14 from the first BUD – Building Union Diversity – program, summed up the feelings of all the participants when she said “I want to go to work.”
BUD is union pre-apprenticeship class for minorities, women and other disadvantaged groups.
A joint effort by the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council, Carpenters’ District Council, and Eastern Missouri Laborers District Council, BUD’s goal is to bring more diversity to the St. Louis construction scene.
BUD is the first program of its kind in the U.S., bringing labor, management, community groups, faith organizations and local government together to ensure all citizens have equal opportunity in the construction trades.
Bricklayers Local 1, Carpenters District Council, IBEW Local 1, Iron Workers Local 396, Laborers District Council (eastern Missouri), Operating Engineers Local 513, and Plumbers &Pipefitters Local 562 all are providing instructors for the program. Other unions will be joining for the next session in 2015.
Ramsay, 52, is a U.S. Air Force veteran and mother of two, helping to raise two grandchildren. She’s been unemployed for two years. Prior to that she worked an office job earning $10 an hour.
The students rotate each week between the participating crafts to get a hands-on understanding of what’s required for that craft.
Getting a first-hand look at the various trades helps trainees identify their skills and interests so they can identify a trade that suits them with which to apprentice, and with which they are likely to succeed.
Trainees are not promised a job simply by participating in the program, only that they will be considered.
“If they’re looking for a black woman Air Force veteran and city resident, I am all those things,” Ramsay joked.
“I got a chance in the service to go overseas and see the world, but I came back to St. Louis because this is where my heart is,” Ramsay said. “I see all this building going on, and I want to be a part of that.”
IDEAS AND SKILLS
Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the Building Trades Council, said BUD is a partnership with the contractors and the community.
“These people have gotten a very, very good overview of the six different crafts,” Aboussie said. “Hopefully, they’ve gotten some ideas and some skills and a good idea of what the industry entails.”
Aboussie said the trainees will receive an assessment of where they did best and recommendation on which union they should join.
Contractors who have agreed to give the trainees consideration – without displacing existing journeymen and apprentices – will also be contacted.
“Our best measure of success will be if we can get them out into the workplace and have them retained,” Aboussie said.
SLATE, the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment, along with Missouri’s Division of Workforce Development, is helping fund the BUD program, serving as the recruiting arm and conducting preliminary screenings of potential participants to ensure they meet basic requirements.
SLATE Project Manager Earl Strauther Jr. said he already had been talking with the contractors and business representatives involved in the construction of the new Ikea store at Vandeventer and Forest Park avenues.
“The best success for me is when you all start working,” Strauther told the class. “We want to lift you up, not to exploit you, but to show you off, because the more people that see you the more people are going to call you.”
‘A GOOD START’
Pat Dolan, president of Sprinklerfitters Local 268 and apprenticeship coordinator for the Missouri AFL-CIO, said outreach efforts are under way to promote the program, recruit participants and get more trades involved.
“It’s a good start,” Dolan said. “It’s about employment, helping people develop the skills that can help them find work. We’re making that effort.”