A multiweek training course launched in Springfield by a Jefferson City-based nonprofit aims to boost interest and employment in the construction industry.
The Missouri Apprentice Ready program introduces the industry to qualified participants over five weeks, providing hands-on experience in areas such as welding and bricklaying, along with financial literacy training and math instruction specific to job sites. The free course is run through Missouri Works Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization affiliated with the Missouri AFL-CIO.
The program, which also started this year in Kansas City, debuted in Springfield in April with the first cohort graduating six people the following month.
The Kansas City and Springfield programs are funded this year by a $400,000 grant through the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, said Missouri Works Initiative Executive Director Greta Bax.
A second Springfield cohort of four participants concluded its five-week session July 8, said Austin Fox, coordinator of the Springfield program.
“When we’re not in the classroom, we go out to all the different organized labor organizations,” Fox said, noting that includes General Laborers Local 663 and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 178.
With Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 15, the class gets to lay a brick wall, while at the local plumbers and pipefitters union, they weld and read blueprints.
“They get to try different things out and find what they like,” Fox said.
Follow the model
The pre-apprentice programs in Springfield and Kansas City aren’t the only ones Missouri Works Initiative is involved in, Bax said.
“The training model that we use in Springfield is built off of the Building Union Diversity program that started in 2014 under the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council,” Bax said, noting Missouri Works Initiative took over the St. Louis program in April 2021. “On doing that, we then had the opportunity to apply for funding to support the expansion of that model into other areas of the state, prioritizing Kansas City and Springfield.”
Additional funding is being sought for next year. The programs use the North America’s Building Trades Unions Multi-Craft Core Curriculum, which qualified it as an apprenticeship-ready program.
“We use that 120-hour construction curriculum and that provides the baseline skills that folks need to succeed in a construction apprenticeship,” Bax said. “We want to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive construction workforce.”
Bax said the St. Louis program grew out of an acknowledgement that the construction workforce was not as diverse, equitable and inclusive as it should be in the city. The nationwide construction industry has about 11% women in its workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the total women employed in the industry is on the rise over the past decade, increasing 54.7% to over 1.2 million in 2021 from 802,000 women in 2012.
Out of Springfield’s first two cohorts, 20% of its participants were women, Bax said.
In the Springfield and St. Louis programs, Bax said local United Way chapters work with participants during the intake process to identify any barriers to their participation and their ability to gain meaningful employment.
Liz Wertz, AFL-CIO community services liaison with United Way of the Ozarks, has helped connect people in the cohort with resources. Several of the participants learned about the program through the Salvation Army Harbor House and the Veterans Coming Home Center, she said. Many in the first cohort were unhoused, according to officials.
“During the first cohort, there were specific barriers that some of the people experienced. I connected them with resources in our community that can meet them where they’re at,” Wertz said, noting those included Crosslines, the food pantry through the Council of Churches of the Ozarks Inc., and One Door, a housing outreach program of Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc.
Program officials want to reach more veterans, minorities and women for future cohorts. However, those who don’t meet the criteria aren’t excluded from applying.
“We can get folks in and train them for a few weeks and then connect them with those industry partners, and then they’re usually well on their way to a career in construction,” Bax said. “We want to get them out of low-wage jobs or jobs that don’t provide a long-term career opportunity.”
A bigger pool
Steve Morrow, field representative for Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 15, said aside from becoming involved in the Missouri Apprentice Ready training course, the union has offered its own apprenticeship program for decades. He completed the union program almost 30 years ago and has worked in the construction industry since then. Morrow also is the current president of the Springfield Building and Construction Trades Council.
He said construction companies can find prospective employees from a variety of avenues, including Ozarks Technical Community College, Missouri Job Center and Build U, a program offered by the Springfield Contractors Association and Build My Future, a multigroup partnership that promotes the industry at an interactive career day. Missouri Apprentice Ready is another option for employers to target those looking to get established in the industry.
“It’s just exposure and if you have a bigger pool to pull from, it helps everybody out that much more,” Morrow said.
The U.S. construction industry registered 434,000 job openings in May, according to BLS data, which was down 6,000 jobs from April but up 126,000 from the same month in 2021.
“There’s a shortage right now in workers,” Morrow said. “It was pushed forever and ever in high schools to go to college. There’s nothing wrong with that, but not everybody goes to college.”
Entrance to the free pre-apprentice program is by application. Candidates may be unemployed or underemployed, minorities, women and other underrepresented groups within the construction industry. Four cohorts are planned each year, according to officials.
Fox said the next Springfield cohort is scheduled to start Aug. 8. Applications are now being accepted with an Aug. 2 deadline. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, eligible to work in the U.S. and all males must meet military Selective Service requirements. •
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