Missouri DOT Joins Labor and Management
To Build Road Project's Diverse Craft Force
Missouri Dept. of Transportation is spending $2.5 million
to develop 240 women and minority pre-apprentices for heavy-highway
The Missouri Dept. of Transportation and a union-management
group in St. Louis have embarked on a new effort set to bolster
craft labor on the $535-million program to rebuild Interstate-64
in the city's downtown, and to ensure that the work force
recruited and trained reflects local demographics.
MoDOT is spending about $2.5 million for the program, launched
earlier this month. Participants say it is the first major
diversity-related employment and training effort in the state.
PRIDE of St. Louis Inc., the region's 35-year-old labor-management
group, won the contract to run the program. It involves $1.5
million to train about 240 women and minority pre-apprentices
for heavy-highway work, and likely for other trades. MoDOT
also has committed another $1 million in placement incentives
for contractors. Workers will join the projected 500-person
I-64 labor force, which will reconstruct 10.5 miles of the
Interstate over the next four years (ENR 12/4/06 p. 16).
"Every pre-apprentice trained will increase the work
force, which is a complicated task that not one entity can
solve alone," says Lester Woods, MoDOT's external civil
rights administrator. "This contract focuses on not just
training, but placement and retention to increase the success
of individuals in the program."
MoDOT is offering the incentives to achieve diversity levels
that can exceed federal standards of 14.7% for minorities
and 6.9% for women. For the first 20% of the labor force comprised
of women or minorities, a contractor will receive $3 per hour
per worker. If the contractor exceeds 20% diversity, it will
receive $10 per hour per worker for up to 5% of the work force.
"MoDOT is the first project owner to provide significant
funding to grow a diverse work force for its project,"
says Jim LaMantia, PRIDE executive director. He credits the
agency's "dedication and the commitment of the union
Planning Ahead Much planning went into developing the contract's
request for proposals to ensure that the new effort exceeds
previous pre-apprentice programs. Community, construction,
labor and DOT representatives met for months to craft the
RFP. "We spent a lot of time to ensure that we asked
for something more comprehensive and collaborative,"
says Len Toenjes, president of the Associated General Contractors
of St. Louis, who participated in the RFP development.
"In the past, we had various pre-apprenticeship programs,
but, alone, they could not do it," says Sandra Marks,
president of Marks and Associates, a St. Louis diversity program
management firm. "Typically, they were social service
programs [and] could not teach people how to do construction.
If all you were trying to do was teach students how to get
up on time and show up on time, they would not know how to
work on heavy-highway jobs."
LaMantia says the new training program hopefully will improve
the quality of new recruits. "This program gives us an
opportunity through PRIDE to form partnerships with well respected
organizations in the minority communities to bring in high
quality candidates," he says. Local church groups are
a key component of the community outreach effort. Initial
interest from these organizations helped spur the program,
created with the expectation of their support.
"We wrote the responsibilities of the churches and clergy
in the RFP. We are sharing the responsibility with them,"
says Toenjes. "This is a different segment of the community
than we've had before that was interested in the construction
industry." He says church groups have great influence
within the city's minority community, making them a logical
source for recruitment and education support.
The pre-apprentice training was developed in conjunction with
local unions. It focuses on three key components: good work
habits and life skills, basics of industry standards and extensive
safety training. The goal is to allow students to "compete
successfully with people who have a better background,"
says Julia Tibbs, director of Operation EXCEL, a program of
the Housing Authority of St. Louis County.
The housing authority was chosen to execute the training because
of its past success with Youth Build, a program that prepares
high school students for carpentry apprenticeships, says Tibbs.
Training associated with the new program began March 7 and
will last eight weeks. It will include six rounds of full
classroom sessions. The I-64 project's size and four-year
duration are ideal for successfully completing an apprenticeship
and finding a contractor sponsor, participants say.
Operation EXCEL aims to keep people in apprenticeships. "If
students run into problems on a job, we will work with them
to make sure they have all the skills and knowledge they need
to know to succeed," says Tibbs. "If work runs out
on one job, it is our responsibility to find another contractor
so that they keep moving forward with their training."
The pre-apprentice program also has a tracking component.
The University of Missouri-St. Louis is building a data base
to monitor long-term retention of graduates who work on the
1-64 project and others. The program is being run with the
expectation that many students will choose other trades and
will need further vocational and apprentice training, based
on skill levels and inclination.
Program participants hope that seeds now being planted eventually
will produce a bountiful harvest. They see the MoDOT-funded
program as a key link to future recruits in the area's minority
community. "We have an aging work force. Most of our
new craft workers are going to be coming from non-traditional
backgrounds such as minorities and women," says Toenjes.
"We need to bring in as many workers as possible. This
is an opportunity to do that."
Marks says past recruitment efforts in St. Louis minority
communities have been acrimonious failures. "The contractors
blamed the unions, the unions blamed the apprenticeship programs.
The programs said that they recruit in high schools, but the
minorities do not want to go into construction," she
Marks contends that "in an urban community like St. Louis,
the idea of working with your hands outside was viewed as
demeaning. To the African-American community, it was what
we did back during slavery." She also attributes the
disdain to a lack of education about the construction industry.
"The distaste for construction stems largely from parents
not knowing how skilled workers really are," says Marks.
The consultant believes the MoDOT-funded program will help
create a base of workers who can spread the word about the
quality of industry jobs. "We are trying to make the
community aware that when their kids enter an apprenticeship
program, they are often making more money than their parents
did at 18 years old," says Marks.
The program already is attracting wider attention. PRIDE is
talking with contractors to obtain private funding to expand
and sustain training, says LaMantia.
MoDOT is considering using the program as a template for other
"We have another design-build project for the Paseo Bridge
and I-29 coming up in Kansas City where we hope to use the
same program," says Woods. LaMantia notes that the Illinois
Dept. of Transportation also is planning to model a minority
and women worker program on the one in neighboring Missouri.
"We see this as an historic opportunity to provide an
educational foundation for disadvantaged jobseekers that they
can leverage into rewarding construction careers," LaMantia
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