Deric Mills, 52, had the drive to build his dream career in construction — he just needed the right tools. He’d lived out of state for several years, and when he moved back to St. Louis, he couldn’t afford a car to get to training and work sites.
Deric’s situation is not uncommon, especially for people working in construction, says Roz Sherman-Voellinger, vice president of labor engagement at United Way of Greater St. Louis.
“We’ve found that access to reliable transportation is among the most common barriers to getting and keeping a job,” Sherman-Voellinger said. “Public transportation is often not an option because the routes may not go to where the job site is located or not at the right times. A construction worker’s jobsite may be in downtown St. Louis one day and Jefferson County the next day.”
Construction workers are generally expected to be able to transport themselves and their gear to their worksites, so without a car, it was impossible for Deric to pursue his dream.
That’s where United Way stepped in. With a unique opportunity through the Building Union Diversity (BUD) Program, Deric was able to receive credit counseling, get a loan from a local credit union and purchase a truck of his own.
Developed by the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, the BUD Program is supported through a collaborative of United Way of Greater St. Louis, local government agencies, employers, unions and community organizations. The program provides five weeks of construction training with participating unions and aims to address the high demand for skilled workers in our area by recruiting minorities, women and other underrepresented groups.
“With so many new construction projects in the St. Louis region, it will take all of us to help meet the growing demand and continue to build our region,” said Russ Signorino, BUD Program director. “These participants are the future of the industry, and we’re committed to empowering them as they progress through their apprenticeship programs and into their careers.”
Thanks to the hands-on experience and connections he gained during training, Deric received a job offer shortly after graduating the program. And United Way was there to make sure he could make it to his first day of work.
Deric was the first to participate in a two-part transportation initiative for BUD graduates developed by United Way and its community partners. After securing a $5,000 donation from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri to the Associated General Contractors of Missouri (AGC) Education Fund, the partners worked with ridesharing service Lyft to provide program graduates with 30 days of free transportation to and from work. During this time, the participants also receive financial literacy training and credit counseling from St. Louis Community Credit Union in order to qualify to purchase a vehicle.
Deric used Lyft to get to his job site every day while working to improve his credit. Within a few weeks, he was able to get a loan and purchase a truck of his own. BUD partners Fathers’ Support Center and Schicker Automotive Group also played important roles in Deric securing his truck.
“A lot of people don’t have the credit to get a loan,” Deric said. “I’m so grateful to have had the help to get the loan and be able to purchase my truck. That took a load off my mind as far as, ‘How am I going to get to work this morning?’ or ‘Do I have to get up extra early to make it?’”
Deric now works as a craft laborer for Ceco Concrete Construction on the new 30-story apartment building at Ballpark Village. He’s the first to arrive at the worksite at 5 or 6 a.m. and is exhausted by the end of his shift, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My eight hours seem like four; my ten hours seem like six,” he laughed. “They have to kick me off the job. ‘Deric, you’ve got to go home.’ I’m not kidding.”
“And at the end of the day, I can drive by and see it,” he continued. “I get a feeling like, ‘I helped put that up there.’”
Now, with reliable transportation and the proper training and experience under his belt, Deric can continue to grow professionally. He hopes to become a crane operator and work his way up through Ceco’s management program.
“My career can go as far as I’m willing to take it,” he said. “There’s no reason for me not to continue to grow. There is no limit for me.”
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Emily (Becherer) Gearhart is a proud native St. Louisan, writer and lover of stories in all their forms. Faced with a captivating question, she will research her way down a rabbit hole and emerge with words that educate and inspire. You can probably find her taking in a musical, bingeing through a new podcast series, exploring the trails at local parks or curating her extensive library of Spotify playlists.