Collaborative Approach to Workforce Development
The St. Louis region has a rich aviation history and continues to be a hub for some of the best-known firms in the aircraft maintenance and manufacturing sector. The presence of companies such as Boeing, Gulfstream, West Star Aviation and more underscores the bi-state area’s strength in aviation, while also reinforcing the need for a steady pipeline of workers with the right skills as these employers grow.
Filling that pipeline is a key focus for the region’s workforce development boards, which work collaboratively with each other and with various schools and employers across the region, according to Rick Stubblefield, Executive Director, St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants and Economic Development Departments. His team works closely with their counterparts at the Madison County Training & Employment Department, and together they serve nine counties in Southwestern Illinois. But they also team up with the workforce development agencies serving St. Louis City and the Missouri counties of St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin, meeting quarterly to access and make plans to address regional workforce needs.
Among those is the need for individuals with skills to enter various aspects of the aviation industry, and Stubblefield indicates apprenticeships will play an important role. Through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program administered by the Grants Department, apprenticeships in manufacturing, as well as other sectors, have already been realized and are thriving. The St. Clair County Work Force Development Group (WDG) is currently partnering with Belleville Township High School District 201 and Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) to develop apprenticeship programs, including Aviation Maintenance, Aviation Technology and Drone Operations. Participants will get hands on experience at employers such as West Star Aviation, which is part of the collaborative effort and has operations at St. Louis Downtown Airport and St. Louis Regional Airport in Bethalto, Ill. Partnerships are being developed with other employers in the aviation sector, and any airport tenants interested in learning more should connect with Stubblefield at 618-825-3203. The curriculum being developed could be used in any high school in the region, including those in the Cahokia and East St. Louis schools close to St. Louis Downtown Airport, while employers that hire eligible individuals to work as apprentices may be able to receive partial reimbursement of wages for up to six months during the training period.
“Working with area high school students, the plan is that they can get triple accreditation through the apprenticeship program: a high school diploma, college credit and a Department of Labor (DOL) certificate of competency,” said Stubblefield. “We want to be proactive and make sure we can serve the workforce needs of growing companies like Gulfstream and West Star Aviation, so we’re working to engage them in the program as work sites where students can get their hands-on experience.”
Erick Dahl, Director of St. Louis Downtown Airport, believes the apprenticeship program is a great way to address the needs of the region’s aviation sector. “The level of collaboration among the various workforce development groups, educational institutions and the private sector is unique and we appreciate their role in building the workforce needed to support our valued tenants and others in the aviation industry across bi-state area.”
Job fairs also play a part in connecting growing companies to potential workers, with the Jobs Plus Regional Job Fair attracting 50 – 60 employers from across the Bi-State area each year who are seeking out potential employees to fill hundreds of job openings region-wide. Individuals learn about opportunities in a variety of industries, making important connections on the spot. The regionwide Accommodations For Success Job Fair was held in Illinois in August for the first time in its five-year history, with St. Clair County’s WDG taking the lead. This event features workshops to help employers be more aware of hiring individuals with disabilities, along with a reverse job fair during which individuals from this highly skilled, eager-to-work pool of talent remain stationary with their resumes and portfolios while employers make the rounds reviewing their information and interviewing job seekers.
St. Clair County also is pleased to be able to support SWIC’s annual Manufacturing Day through both its WDG and its Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) Group. Over 1,600 students from 42 high schools attended the Oct. 4th event at SWIC’s Granite City Campus, making it the largest in the state of Illinois and one of the largest in the country. Each year, the event gives students, including those from nearby East St. Louis and Cahokia schools, the opportunity to check out high-tech automated manufacturing machinery, hear from regional manufacturers, and learn about new technology, educational programs, career opportunities, products and services.
“It’s truly a tremendous opportunity to expose students to the world of opportunities in the manufacturing sector, which can open the doors for a lifetime career,” said Stubblefield.