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How one local woman became an ironworker — and is encouraging others to start construction careers

Aurora Bihler stands on a beam next to a student training in the "Building Union Diversity" class.
Melanie Breihan
Aurora Bihler, left, stands on a beam next to a student training in a Building Union Diversity class.

Aurora Bihler has spent the past nine years as a union ironworker in St. Louis. It wasn’t always her career plan, but, with a degree in fine arts and sculpture, she realized she needed to find a more stable career.

The path wasn’t easy, but Bihler hopes that others — particularly more women and minorities — can follow a similar journey to well-paying jobs.

“I think that there's really a lack of understanding of the amount of opportunities and how there are so many different types of trades, and so many different types of things that need to be done in order to build America,” she said. “If people don't know that these things exist, then how would they know that they'd be a good fit?”

Bihler serves as the program director for Building Union Diversity. Founded in 2014, the program is operated by the Missouri Works Initiative, the nonprofit workforce development arm of the AFL-CIO. The program has graduated some 300 students in 27 classes. The next class begins its six-week pre-apprenticeship program on Jan. 30.

She said the reason she's passionate about the program because she wished it had been available when she was just starting out in the industry.

“When I first joined the ironworkers, I felt incredibly alone. I didn't know anyone, I didn't have any family in the trades," Bihler said. "And so the beauty of this program is not only are they connecting with people who are already in the field, but also with themselves.”

To learn more about the Building Union Diversity program from Bihler, as well as insight into the ongoing labor shortage from AFL-CIO Missouri President Jake Hummel, listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

How ‘Building Union Diversity’ director found her career in ironwork

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org. 

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."
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