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St. Louis Apprenticeship Program Gets National Attention

Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio


In a quest to make job training count, the Obama administration is taking an interest in work-based apprenticeships. A St. Louis program is serving as a model for the administration.

The White House is highlighting about 40 programs across the country that are doing it right under the so-called Ready to Work Initiative. Only one such program in Missouri has made the list, the St. Louis Carpenter Union’s Mid-Apprenticeship Program.  

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews said the program, which teaches high school students construction skills as a step towards an industry apprenticeship, creates a pathway for young people to begin a career.

“We hope that by shining a spotlight on success stories like this, more business leaders, innovators, unions, educators and state and local officials will adopt strategies that work and help more hardworking Americans get trained in the skills that put them in good-paying jobs,” Andrews said.

The Mid-Apprenticeship Program began in Bayless High School near Affton in 2004. The training is provided by the Carpenter’s District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity, and the funding to start the program came from a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Credit Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio
An example of the work done by floor layer apprentices during the wood phase of their training.

“And so now, when students graduate after their four years at Bayless, two of which are spent with the floor layers, they come in with advanced standing working for our signatory contractors,” explained District Council training director John Gaal. “And instead of having to come down here to school one week every three months for four years, they just have to do 15 hours of coursework online with Ivy Tech over the course of those four years. And the beauty of it all is when they graduate four years out, they not only get their journey level certificate as a floor layer from the department of labor, but they also get their associate degree from Ivy Tech. So it’s a huge win.”

For now, the District Council partners with Indiana-based Ivy Tech to include a coursework component to the apprenticeships. But Gaal says the council is looking into partnerships with local community colleges as well.

In 2013, the District Council expanded the Mid-Apprenticeship Program into the Ferguson-Florissant School District and the Special School District at North County Tech. In the north county schools, the training is focused on advanced manufacturing. The implementation of those programs was paid for through an innovative high school campus grant from the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

Gaal said the idea of the program is to add new blood to the unions’ aging workforce and to encourage high school students to graduate by connecting them to careers that pay well without requiring a four-year degree.

“The school had a need and our industry had a need,” said Gaal. “In the design of the program, what we saw was that if we don’t do something with the graying of our workforce, we’re going to be caught in a very precarious situation in the not too distant future.”