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Teachers and counselors take a class in St. Louis jobs that don’t require a 4-year degree

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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Clayton Hilburn, a senior training supervisor for electrical apprentices at Ameren Missouri, speaks to teachers on Wednesday at the utility company’s training facility in Maryland Heights. Educators participated in a weeklong program to expose them to blue-collar jobs through the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

St. Louis teachers and counselors are spending this week learning about in-demand jobs at companies across the St. Louis region, with the intent of passing the information along to their students.

It’s part of an effort to get students interested in industries that currently have workforce shortages. Many of the jobs that are being highlighted are in the skilled trades and do not require a four-year degree.

The group went to Ameren, Spire, BJC, T. Rex and other employers.

“We need to change the mantra that four-year college is for everybody,” said Brian Crouse, vice president of education programs at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Right now, we're really trying to showcase: What are those careers that are available? How can a student get involved with those careers?”

At Ameren’s Dorsett training center in Maryland Heights, teachers watched workers climb poles during a training exercise. Ameren has about 700 positions open right now; hourly wages start at $27.25, or about $56,000 a year, for people who are in an introductory training position. After that, those workers start apprenticeships paying close to $40 per hour, said Darnell Sanders, director of the Arch View division for Ameren.

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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Jared Byington, of Ste. Genevieve, trains on a power line alongside fellow classmates on Wednesday at Ameren’s training facility in Maryland Heights.

“A lot of times people overlook the skilled trades, but skilled trades are basically the backbone of industry,” Sanders said. “The great thing about Ameren is it's not all physical. We have technology jobs, we have digital jobs, we have just a variety of jobs."

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized the week of tours for middle and high school educators from public and private schools. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Regional Business Council are also involved in coordinating the program, which began in 2018.

Throughout the week, the educators participate in training, hands-on demonstrations and discussions to have a better idea of the skills students might need for in-demand jobs like the ones they saw at Ameren.

The hope is that the teachers and counselors will talk about the experience with students who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math but aren’t interested in going to a university immediately after high school.

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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Deonnah Ash, a teacher at University City High School, visits Ameren’s training facility in Maryland Heights on Wednesday.

Aundrea Johnson went through the program virtually last year but decided to sign up again to be able to see the jobs up close. She is a counselor at Ladue Middle School and said she is going to approach her students with a different strategy after this week.

“Now, I'm able to talk with firsthand knowledge about what it takes and what the expectations are in order to get into a skilled trade job like this,” Johnson said. “But also just to let our students know that there are more options out there other than attending a four-year college or university.”

Johnson said she was surprised to see the number of organizations that are hiring and the huge number of positions that are available right now.

“I'm just excited to see all that's going on in my city,” Johnson said.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.

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