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

Building Orpportunities

Chapter Seven


"I have a better outlook on life now. When I was gangbanging, I just cared about my place and being No. 1. I'm helping the community out now. That's pretty cool with me. It's better than being out on the streets."

-John Paul Lopez, age 17, YouthBuild Los Angeles trainee1

"We try and provide innovative methods to get them motivated toward school and career goals. Construction is an effective tool that prepares them for life. It teaches them discipline. They see the results of their work, which does wonders for their self-esteem."

-Dennis Arguelles, YouthBuild Los Angeles director2

This report has outlined both externally and locally generated answers to several general questions: what are the issues that confound employability for East St. Louis residents; what job training resources are currently available; what resources should be made available; and, how can East St. Louis residents be better served by these resources? This report also seeks to "demystify" the popular belief that construction skills training is a panacea for disinvested and struggling communities. With a broader understanding of the challenges faced by construction skills training programs, they can be better designed and implemented in communities such as East St. Louis. The conclusion reached is that, in East St. Louis and elsewhere, the advantages of undertaking a construction skills training program outweigh the potential challenges to its implementation.

Chapter Five offers concrete recommendations for how job training resources, in general, can be better utilized in the wake of current welfare reform. Chapter Six explains steps that can be taken to create training and job opportunities through local public sector and private sector construction projects, concluding with the outline of a specific program, the "Building Opportunities" strategy. Both these general and specific recommendations should be actively pursued.

The "Building Opportunities" strategy provides a model for a training program that, while it may come to be federally funded, will be local in its planning, staffing and orientation. Goals and measures of success will be defined democratically by a broad-based local coalition. There will be an incentive to work in conjunction with other entities, both public and private, who are also striving toward the goals of physical rehabilitation and community stability, so that everyone's scarce time and resources are used to best effect. While similar in some ways to the YouthBuild model, the "Building Opportunities" strategy seeks to consider a broader range of potential "on-the-job" opportunities, as well as to create an even more direct understanding of the importance of physical revitalization to the community's future.

Further research will be needed to move ahead with the strategy. Issues that remain to be undertaken are: identification of specific projects, identification of specific public and private funding sources, and identification of area union members and contractors willing to be involved in training and mentoring. A survey of potential trainees should to be conducted to better determine demand for such a program among various demographic groups. Issues of race and mobility, as they effect the accessibility of jobs for East St. Louis residents, merit more in-depth investigation and frank discussion. And finally, the few potential case studies that were identified in the course of research should be contacted directly for feedback and advice (see list in Appendix G). If successfully implemented, the strategy can eventually be used as a program model for other job sectors, such as those identified by interviewees and summarized in Table B (page 22).

There is real opportunity for physical and economic renewal in East St. Louis, but it will require determination, imagination, and perseverance. This report seeks to provide the contextual information and feedback necessary to take the next, concrete steps. Solutions must seek to benefit East St. Louis residents, and will require an unprecedented spirit of cooperation from the public and private sectors. There are limited public funds sources available, and care must be taken to use them to greatest effect. As one interviewee put it, it is time to "join hands" and pursue programs that "demonstrate true concern for residents." Effective use of available capital and innovative partnerships, to create both jobs and job training opportunities, is the key to empowering the residents of East St. Louis to become important participants in the regional economy once again.


1. "Job Training Program Allows High School Dropouts to Rebuild Tattered Lives". Los Angeles Times. August 28, 1996. page B5.

2. "Job Training Program Allows High School Dropouts to Rebuild Tattered Lives". Los Angeles Times. August 28, 1996. page B5.

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

Chapter 7

East St. Louis Action Research Project
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