By SHERI GASSAWAY
Last September, Marilyn Williams was desperately looking for work and living in a shelter. Today, the mother of four is a proud member of IBEW Local 1, gainfully employed at Bell Electric and is able to provide a home for her children ranging in age from 5 to 14.
Williams credits her success to the Building Union Diversity (BUD) program, which began in 2014 as a recruitment tool to get more minorities and women into the building trades. The program provides basic training, introduces the students to the various trades and helps them discover and land good paying union jobs.
Williams took part in her BUD graduation ceremony on March 15. Before the ink had even dried on her diploma, she already had a lead on a job opportunity.
“The day of the ceremony, Dennis Gralike (director of the St. Louis Electrical Industry Training Center) told me he had a company that was interested in speaking with me,” Williams said. “I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been with Bell Electric ever since.”
The BUD Program is a partnership between the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council, the Eastern Missouri Laborers District Council and the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, with funding from the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) and the Missouri Division of Workforce Development.
Williams, who previously had worked as a school bus driver and in customer service call centers, learned about the BUD program through SLATE when she was searching for a job. She filled out the application, took the necessary tests and was accepted into the five-week program. She was able to visit six local building trades’ training centers.
Williams said that from Day No. 1, she thought she wanted to be a carpenter. Prior to joining the BUD program, she had applied for an apprenticeship at the Carpenters’ union, but never received a call back.
“The minute I walked into the IBEW Local 1 apprenticeship center, I saw the diversity and acceptance, and I knew this was the career path for me,” she said. “I had no family or friends in the trades, and Local 1 was the first trade to give me a chance.”
Williams says she’d highly recommend the BUD program after her experience. In fact, she’s already referred one of her friends who is a single mother. She also was accepted into the BUD program.
Williams is part of a growing trend of women joining the building trades. According to a study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the number of women working in construction trades increased by 17.6 percent between 2017 and 2018 in the United States, rising to well over a quarter of a million women.
While it’s the highest share of tradeswomen working in the industry in 20 years, women still remain strongly underrepresented in the trades. Fewer than one in 20 (3.4 percent) construction trades workers were women in 2018.
That’s one of the reasons Williams says it’s important to have several female mentors from the building trades. The BUD program works with Missouri Women in Trades (MoWIT) to provide mentors for its graduates.
MoWIT is a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women to enter and succeed in apprenticeship and careers in the construction and building trades in the greater St. Louis area.
“It’s important surpass the stereotypes and connect with other women in the trades,” said Williams, who attends MoWIT’s monthly meetups. “And just one other tradeswoman – several – so you always have someone to talk to when you need it.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Anyone interested in participating in a future BUD class should contact the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) at 314-657-3545. For more information on MoWIT, visit mowit.org, call 636-926-6948 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.