At an orientation for a new apprenticeship program to train child care workers in St. Louis, Serroge Watt signed up with his 2-year-old daughter, Korra, in mind.
“I’ve kind of got a knack with it, so I just want to share it and polish off the rough edges,” said Watt, 33, eyes smiling behind thick-rimmed glasses. “I’m just trying to circle back and have a balanced perspective when I’m raising my children, my neighbors, and everyone else. They’re always around.”
Ten people, mostly women, sat around a table at the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) on Wednesday to learn more about these first-of-their kind apprenticeships. The two-year program includes five weeks of classes, paid on-the-job training beginning at $9.50 an hour, and placement at an early childhood education program with pay scaling up to $13 an hour. Participants will graduate as Child Development Associates with a certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Funds from SLATE will cover half of each apprentice's pay and the $425 fee to take the credentialing exam, said Miton Clayborn of the LUME Institute, who will teach the classes.
“There’s this movement towards the importance of early childhood education, how important it is to be instructive, not just babysitting when you’re in the class with these kids,” Clayborn said. “We’re pushing teachers to be just as well-educated as any other educator.”
Forty-five people have attended the orientations, Clayborn said. To participate, applicants must have a high school diploma or GED and pass a series of work-readiness assessments. The first 15 students will start as soon as mid-May.
“I love kids. I raised four children myself as a single mom. I have five grandchildren — one on the way,” said Maureen Avouris, who signed up after reading about the program in a newspaper. “I’m retired at the moment, so it does work for me.”
One of the grants funding the pilot program is reserved for residents of the Clinton-Peabody public housing development south of downtown; eight residents have expressed interest so far, coordinators say. Single women head 92 percent of the households in the development, and average income is just over $7,200 a year, said St. Louis Housing Authority director Cheryl Lovell.
“When we asked people what their career interests are, child care is in the top three or four. It’s probably because many people have experience taking care of children,” Lovell said.
More traditional apprenticeships geared toward plumbers, electricians or construction workers were less popular, Lovell said. Given the interest from the residents and that local programs report difficulties finding qualified new hires, training people to work in early childhood centers simply made sense, she said. Dawn Winkler, who directs an association of St. Louis day care centers called United 4 Children, said centers often struggle to find qualified employees who are willing to work for the wages they can afford to offer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for day care workers is $10.72, or $22,310 a year.
“In childcare, in the past, it’s, 'Who’s willing to come in the door?'” Winkler said. “This creates a training ground, so we know our children are going to be in the hands of professionals.”
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