ESLARP East St. Louis Action Research Project
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Building Orpportunities

Chapter Six

Specific Recommendations

Relevant Themes
Lessons from Recent Efforts
Specific Recommendations for Construction Skills Training
The "Building Opportunities" Strategy

This chapter will reiterate the issues described in Chapter Four regarding the construction industry and construction skills training, derived from both recent studies and interviewee feedback. After a synopsis of these issues, and a brief description of some lessons learned from past and present efforts at construction skills training, specific recommendations regarding construction skills training will be outlined. The final section of this chapter will describe a specific proposal, the "Building Opportunities" strategy, in detail. The strategy was designed in response to the issues raised in the research and to the feedback described in this report, and seeks to address the concerns raised regarding construction skills training. Despite these concerns, linking training opportunities to community rebuilding has advantages, and is a worthwhile undertaking.

Relevant Themes

General issues related to the construction industry are recapitulated below:

Issues raised during interviews with persons involved in the construction industry, as well as feedback generated during survey-format interviews, are reviewed below:

Lessons from Recent Efforts

The recent efforts described in Chapter Four in some detail offer some lessons for future construction trades training program design. They are recapped below:

Specific Recommendations for Construction Skills Training

Feedback generated during interviews, along with data on current conditions, provides a rationale to foster the construction trades as a career track option for young East St. Louis residents. Taking this information into account, as well as the lessons learned from other attempts to provide training, the following recommendations are made. In a sense, they constitute a list of widely held "principles" upon which the strategy to follow in the next section was based. They are as follows:

The "Building Opportunities" Strategy

This proposed strategy for providing construction skills training takes into account the recommendations outlined above. Implementation of a program such as this, which will require the cooperation and coordination of numerous entities in East St. Louis, can begin to build trust and shared successes, and can be used as a model for future initiatives targeted at other promising employment sectors. It is but one step forward, but it can bring about both direct and indirect positive results in the effort to revitalize East St. Louis.

The program seeks to recreate the "ideal" sequence of beginning with a very basic introduction to all of the major trades, as well as incorporating general skills acquisition that will be useful to participants even if they choose not to pursue the construction trades as a long-term career. It then goes on to focus in more depth on one construction trade, as chosen by the participant, after enough background and guidance have been provided. All the while, much needed mentoring and support is provided.

The unique aspect of the "Building Opportunities" program is its ability to help meet the physical revitalization goals of East St. Louis in a direct way, while also building up the community's "human capital." The dismal state of much of the building stock in the community creates tremendous opportunities for hand-on construction-related experiences. Many structures played an important role in the history of the city, and creating an opportunity for the young people of East St. Louis to renew hope and optimism through helping to preserve the city's past and to build for its future can make the program very meaningful.

The strategy, outlined in Figure A (next page), hinges on the creation of a "stakeholder coalition" that will refine and implement the program as a group. The idea of fostering public/private cooperation is key to the model. This coalition should consist of representatives of all entities who have an interest in improving the employability of East St. Louis residents, and in rebuilding the community. Within the coalition, focus groups will be created to tackle the more intricate details of program implementation, depending on more specific interests and resources.

The coalition will work together to identify potential trainees, identify funding sources, and set standards for eligibility, acceptable performance and completion. Local union representatives should be involved in the design of an appropriate curriculum, to ensure adequate preparation for apprenticeship programs while providing a wide-ranging introduction to the construction trades, as well as to secure job source commitments for those successfully completing the program.

The city will need to take steps to ensure that public sector regulations, such as local hiring requirements for publicly subsidized work undertaken within the city, further enforce the aims of the strategy. Recent discussions within the Clinton Administration about creating incentives to hire welfare recipients may lead to a strengthening of the public sector role in making increased job opportunities a reality.

Program Structure

As the "Building Opportunities" diagram indicates, the strategy is built around a one-year sequence of "on-the-job" training, supported by classroom work, as well as a strong mentoring component. The program will ideally lead to a union apprenticeship, or down another avenue if desired (three alternatives are indicated in the diagram). If participants feel uncertain about continuing after the first six-month sequence, they should be counseled about other career options and referred to a more appropriate training program.

The focus of the "on-the-job" aspect will be real projects in East St. Louis, helping to revitalize and rebuild the community. The program will necessarily have to begin with small projects, and progress to involvement with more and larger undertakings. The classroom component will make the value of investing time and energy in the community clear, as well as providing a general

Figure A: Strategy Diagram

background on the construction industry, and GED preparation and basic skills as needed.

Various members of the coalition will need to undertake a variety of tasks: recruiting participants, administering support services, providing mentoring and follow-up support, and securing commitments for construction project access and job commitments.

One very important aspect of the program will be recording both the group and individual achievements of participants, as a way of providing "credentials" for participants to make use of in the future, regardless of what educational or career path is eventually pursued.

Program Partners

Numerous entities are represented directly in this diagram. Others will be concerned with and affected by its results, even if not directly involved in its implementation. The input of many interested parties will be crucial. The following organizations, at a minimum, should be represented in the "stakeholder coalition":

It would be logical for the Enterprise Community office to take the lead in this organizing effort, as their funding flexibility and goal of job creation mesh well with the strategy. They should not be expected to undertake implementation alone, however.

Some of the organizations listed above have specific potential roles in getting involved with the strategy. For example, the Southern Illinois University- East St. Louis Center (SIU-ESL) currently operates a Head Start program, provides after-school care, two high school pre-college programs and a newly-begun career guidance program for non-college bound high school students. They also operate an Educational Opportunities Center, in which they provide assistance to persons aged 19 and over who express an interest in furthering their education. As a result, SIU-ESL could play a role both in the support service component and the counseling component of the strategy.

Metropolitan Community College, currently restructuring and expanding their programs, could play a role in providing the classroom education component of the strategy at their Skills Center facility. The Department of Public Aid and the Employment and Training Center can provide referral services, as well as grant assistance to cover support service needs of trainees, and job search assistance at the end of the program.

The Housing Authority, the city, and private sector initiatives such as the "Faith-Filled" Housing Program (being undertaken by Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House and Catholic Urban Programs) and HUD-funded housing construction and rehabilitation by other community groups, could all serve as potential sources of "on-the-job" experience. A report completed by Daniel Thomas of the University of Illinois in 1996 found that in twelve of East St. Louis' neighborhoods, there were 147 "deteriorated but salvageable" structures, and 366 "derelict" structures requiring demolition.1 Linking the effort to improve neighborhoods by mitigation of these hazards with the effort to create local jobs is a logical step.

These few examples serve to demonstrate some of the cooperative components of the strategy that could be undertaken by various concerned and empowered organizations.

Program Funding and Implementation

The coalition will need to approach and secure funding sources, once the program is further refined and a budget prepared. The program structure provides ample opportunity to leverage private expenditures with public funds, to maximize the impact of both. There may be funds available through the community college and the city (such as TIF funds or Casino Queen revenues) for certain aspects of the program. Other sources to be investigated should be: the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), the Illinois State Board of Education, and possibly even the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA). The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) could provide Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) or Enterprise Community (EC) funds specifically for the program. These funds could be tied to new housing and housing rehabilitation projects utilizing HOME and HOPE funds. Of course, private foundation grants and corporate support, as well as in-kind donations of materials and tools should also be pursued.

It will be very important, in designing and budgeting for the program, to provide a "living wage" subsidy to participants during the course of the program, with a raise structure to provide both an incentive and a reward for exceptional performance. Appropriate incentives to spur private sector involvement as trainers, classroom instructors, mentors, and eventual job providers will also be crucial. The public sector should find a way to absorb the liability and insurance costs of program participants, as they cannot be borne by the individuals, and are not likely to be borne by private sector partners. Maintaining the affordability of the result of program construction efforts, especially if it is new or rehabilitated housing, will also be very important, and will further strengthen the community rebuilding aspect of the strategy.

Beginning small, with a pilot project based on an ongoing effort such as the "Faith-Filled" Housing Program, would serve to reinforce the potential positive effect of expanding the strategy, and help to encourage more wide-ranging participation. The dialogue about beginning such an effort should begin as this and other similar projects are finalized. Several persons interviewed expressed a strong interest in the idea of implementing a construction skills training program for East St. Louis. A few committed organizations, working together even with only existing resources and existing programs, could begin to develop this strategy immediately. The current public sector discussions surrounding the employability of young minorities and welfare recipients would make it a very timely and relevant undertaking.


1. Thomas, Daniel. "Code Enforcement in East St. Louis, Illinois". master's project. Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. May 1996. pages 38-39.

Document author : Diane Gormery-Barnes
HTML by : Yong Wook Kim
Last modified: May 21, 1997

Chapter 6

East St. Louis Action Research Project
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