By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS & REVIEW MAGAZINE
Three decades ago, St. Louis commercial contractors weren’t nearly as attuned to workforce diversity as they are today, according to John Gaal, EdD, director of training and workforce development for the St. Louis – Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council. And with a bevy of high-profile construction projects looming, hard-working women and minorities are a still-scarce commodity.
Last week Gaal addressed a room of more than 50 stakeholders who are proactively initiating strategies to recruit, retain and support young women and minorities in St. Louis who are seeking a future in construction.
The program, soon beginning its fifth year, is known as Building Union Diversity (BUD). Its aim is to do everything possible to engage and prepare women and minorities in the St. Louis region to secure a job and a career in construction and to succeed in it.
BUD’s support extends well beyond top-notch, real-world apprenticeship training to also include coaching them in how to interview for a job, actual job placement, subsidizing transportation to and from the job site and assisting new workers in establishing their credit so they can secure a car loan. BUD’s active stakeholders hail not only from the construction industry but also from social service agencies, financial institutions, automotive dealerships, public and private transportation providers, healthcare providers and others.
“There is a lot of work on the horizon here in St. Louis and much of it has requirements in the bid documents that specify goals of increasing minority participation to better reflect the communities in which we live,” said Gaal, who heads the training arm of a council with more than 20,000 members from 34 local unions across Missouri, Kansas and Southern Illinois. “A lot has changed in the past 30 years with regard to a commitment to diversity. Construction owners – our customers – continue to up their standards for diversity and inclusion.”
Reconstruction of Interstate 64 by MoDOT and partners paved the way for the start of the BUD program back in 2013-2014. Gaal is quick to emphasize that BUD’s diversity goals are not limited to blue-collar construction workers.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop and maintain a more diverse make-up in our industry, whether that’s blue collar or white collar,” he said. “The only way this industry is going to change is if we start graduating more minorities and women in the trades. I firmly believe it’s at that point that individuals have opportunities to make meaningful decisions in their lives and to earn well and live well from working in the construction trades.”
Gaal added that construction of the National Geospatial Agency’s future St. Louis headquarters, a $1.7 billion build and one that officials estimate will generate more than 5,000 construction jobs, will employ tradespeople who begin their careers and complete their apprenticeships during the process of building this mega-project.
Contractors, specialty subs, healthcare organizations, financial institutions, social service agencies and others interested in becoming a BUD stakeholder should contact the program’s director, Russ Signorino, at (314) 303-6082 and visit @BUDSTL on Facebook.