St. Louis Building Union Diversity program announces 2023 classes

LEARNING BY DOING: The 2023 BUD program begins its next cohort on Jan. 30. Here, BUD program coordinator Aurora Bihler (left) practices walking on a beam with Amir Williams from last year’s pre-apprenticeship class while learning about a career as an iron worker. – BUD program photo

First cohort starts Jan. 30, interviews being scheduled for Jan. 18, 19

Missouri Correspondent

The St. Louis Building Union Diversity (BUD) program has announced its 2023 schedule for its six-week, nationally recognized pre-apprenticeship programs.

The mission of the BUD program is to build a more inclusive workforce by increasing construction trade participation among traditionally under-represented groups, including minorities and women. It provides pre-apprentices with the opportunity to visit local building trades unions to give them hands-on basic training and a feel for each of the trades.

The first cohort begins Jan. 30, and interviews will be held Jan. 18 and 19. There are three other cohorts available this year: April 17, July 10 and Sept. 25. BUD is a full-time program, and classes are held Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. the first week, and Monday through Thursday for the following five weeks.

“The program can be life-changing for students by offering them the opportunity to make a living wage and provide for their families,” said Aurora Bihler, BUD program coordinator and member of Iron Workers Local 396. “It’s an introduction to the building trades that offers the skills you should have before you go into a construction career like OSHA 10 and CPR/first aid, and it’s also a hands-on program at the apprenticeship schools to see what kind of work you enjoy and what would be a good fit.”

Applicants must be 18 or older, eligible to work in the United States, have WorkKeys exam results and meet Military Selective Service Requirements, if born male. Preferred credentials are a Level 5 score on WorkKeys Applied Math and WorkKeys Workplace Documents, a negative drug test and a high school diploma or equivalent.

“Once we have the WorkKeys results, we can then schedule you for an interview,” Bihler said. “In-person interviews are about 15 minutes before a panel of representatives from community organizations, labor unions and construction contractors.”

During orientation week, students learn about the union building trades and construction industry basics, the different union building trades, how an apprenticeship program works and various labor and trades organizations. They will also learn construction math and blueprint reading and take the OSHA 10 and a CPR/first aid exam.

“In the following five weeks of the program, we go to different union apprenticeship schools for hands-on experience,” Bihler said. “For example, when we go to the Iron Workers school, we learn how to pack and tie rebar, use an oxy-acetylene cutting torch, walk on a beam and use crane signals.”

BUD students can talk and interact with the apprentice coordinators/instructors when they are in the training facilities and they can ask specific questions like how much a first-term apprentice makes or when their health insurance starts for any dependent family members.

“It’s also the time to show their stuff because apprenticeship coordinators, instructors and contractors are often watching to select BUD participants they want to immediately hire once they complete the BUD program,” Bihler said.

At the graduation ceremony, students earn their diplomas, and if they do not have a job, they can meet there with labor leaders, union apprentice coordinators, community partners and construction contractors that looking to hire.

The BUD program was created in 2014 by the St. Louis Building Trades Council in an effort to increase participation of minorities and women in the union building trades. Since then, the program has had a 92 percent graduation rate, and of those who have graduated, 79.2 percent are minorities and 26.5 percent are women.

Based on the success of the BUD program and with the sponsorship and support of the Missouri AFL-CIO, the Missouri Works Initiative last year took over the work of replicating the St. Louis program’s training and recruiting model statewide. The initiative launched the Missouri Apprenticeship Readiness program – similar to the BUD program – this year in Kansas City and Springfield.

Last month, all three programs were recognized by the AFL-CIO, and they are the only pre-apprenticeship programs that made the AFL-CIO’s list of comprehensive apprenticeship readiness programs.

The BUD program also offers supportive services to participants, including:

  • Transportation to the training centers from a central location.
  • Bus/Metro passes.
  • $100 weekly stipend during the training.
  • Safety equipment (boots, hardhat, safety glasses)
  • Work clothing (pants and shirts)
  • A $150 tool allowance once indentured to an apprentice program
  • Discretionary support funding through the United Way.
  • Access to mentoring after the program from experienced construction trade members
  • Short-term transportation assistance after graduation.

For more information or to apply, visit


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