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Clayco Builds New Training Facility and Service Center in Ferguson, Mo Community

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Centene, a Fortune 500 company and a leading multi-line healthcare enterprise, recently contracted Clayco to build their new service center and training facility in Ferguson, Missouri. This project aims to support the Ferguson community and provide new opportunities for residents in both construction and future career training.

Studies throughout the country have shown minorities and women are underrepresented in the skilled workforce of the construction industry. With this new construction, Centene and Clayco are creating training opportunities in the industry for local residents and building a service center with a dedication to diversity and inclusiveness for everyone who calls north Saint Louis Country home.



As part of the new construction, Centene and Clayco are building a training facility, service center and daycare to help promote technical career opportunities to support and encourage a modern, diverse workforce for the future of the industry.

“A lot of the technical trades education has been taken out of our schools in the past,” said Sandra Marks, senior vice president, government and community affairs, Clayco. “Now the need for investment in technical education is clear. Junior colleges, technical degrees and certificate programs can get people trained and working in two years.” The old mentality that focused on a 4-year college education is being challenged and many are considering alternative paths. “People have started to better understand connecting the needs of the employer with available skill sets,” said Marks.

To support more individuals interested in technical trades education, Clayco formed the Clayco Career Development Initiative (CCDI), which is a scholarship/mentorship program focused on introducing 8th-10th grade students for career opportunities in the construction industry.

“Were looking for those students that want to learn an alternative skill,” said Dan Lester, director of community affairs and recruiting for Concrete Strategies. Each student participating in the program will get an in-house mentor to guide them through the opportunities, in the trades as well as other professional careers that potentially feed into the construction industry.

One component of the program that will serve to introduce students to the vast array of opportunity is a series of jobsite visits. “We’re focusing our efforts in North County [Saint Louis],” said Lester. “So they will be able to go to Centene and see, this is in their community, this is what we’ve done here and this is what a larger construction site looks like.” Students will gain an understanding of the various roles and responsibilities on a jobsite and perhaps be inspired to make their first career decision. “If you at least can start somewhere,” said Lester, “once you get in there you can see where you would like to maneuver and explore all of the different options and opportunities available within that structure.”

Clayco has also created a scholarship fund to reduce financial barriers. Once students graduate from high school, the CCDI will provide financial assistance for technical school tuition, tools, boots, books, and even a bus pass. Financial efforts will be tied to students selected for the program and will be needs based.

Through this program, Clayco hopes to give students the support they need to succeed and the awareness they need to find their path in life. “There is a lack of exposure to the construction industry,” said Lester. “We want to change that.”


“Properly and effectively training individuals is difficult because there is cost associated with it and it is hard to see past today,” said Lester. It’s worth it though, he said, “because new workers are coming on and you’re passing along valuable trade knowledge that you will not lose when a more experienced worker retires. We want to pass on traditional knowledge to the next generation of workers. That’s what’s at risk with 70 percent of the workforce being older, we’re going to lose our trades, trainers and teachers.”

Being that on-the-job training is best, many construction apprenticeship programs are set up so that participants begin working right away. “With this model, you get a chance to apply the knowledge that you are learning immediately,” said Lester. While there are many programs out there offering some initial training and various pre-apprentice programs that expose candidates to a limited variety of tasks, ultimately it’s going to be the company’s responsibility to take time and invest in people’s training.

Concrete Strategies has put in place a strategy for investing in the training of their future workforce. “That’s where the real opportunity comes in,” said Lester. “Now it changes a life and changes one’s ability to provide for their family. It’s successful if there’s a plan behind it and the Centene Service Center project is providing an opportunity to execute the plan.”


One of the main goals of these programs is to take on a manageable number of apprentices so that they can continue to work and build their skills from job to job. At Concrete Strategies, they aim to create a team that builds relationships and refines roles together as a unit, rather than bringing on one set of workers for one project and another set for another project. This not only allows for more efficient work as the team familiarizes themselves with the specific manner in which work is done at any given company, it also allows for individuals to fine tune their skills and knowledge of the industry.

Because tilt-up is a unique type of skill set and as it becomes more popular because of its speed, economy and versatility, this approach becomes a value to the industry as more workers become experienced with this construction method.



In addition to new and diverse apprenticeship programs like CCDI many municipalities, states and the federal government have put goals in place to eradicate discriminatory employment barriers.

The city of Saint Louis, for example, has a series of goals, informed by multiple disparity studies, setting the percentages of each project contract value that should be awarded to minority- and woman-owned businesses, as well as the percentages of work hours for each project that should be performed by minority and women workers.

While the city of Ferguson does not have set diversity requirements, Clayco made this a priority to ensure the building construction was reflective and inclusive of north Saint Louis.

“Before beginning construction, we wanted to make sure we had a diverse team, representative of the surrounding community,” said Marks. As Clayco was named the contractor for the job, they brought on design and management contacts Grice Group Architects (Architect), David Mason & Associates (Structural Engineers), TSI Engineering (Geotechnical Investigation) and Simms Building Group (Construction Management), along with a number of other local minority firms.

Centene also retained Marks and Associates, who often provides Clayco with project-specific support in the implementation of various aspects of their MBE/WBE and Workforce Plan.

Clayco addresses the workforce as well, breaking down the project by division, looking at the number of man-hours, projecting the number of people and then asking questions. What would be the potential of minorities and women who are already in the industry? Who actually works for these subcontractors and who needs to be brought in?

When Clayco evaluates bids, they ensure that the subcontractor understands they expect to see a diverse workforce and asks how they can assist in this process. “After reviewing our first report, we are well inline with those projections,” said Marks.



Some may suggest that these efforts could increase project cost or contractor time. Marks suggested that is not true. “It may cost more money to do business with a firm that is not lowest at bid day,” said Marks. “But depending on the project, you are often paying more for a quality firm that is meeting your expectations.”

If a company places a bid and they do not make any effort to meet Clayco’s expectations for inclusion, being low will not result in an automatic contract. “Our effort, year-round, is to work with businesses that know us and understand our work,” said Marks. “We consider many issues when contracting a bid.” She explains that they do not select a company because they are minority- or woman-owned; they take a company because Clayco will receive their full value, which includes, among other things, safety, experience, cost and inclusion.


Dorrie Harris, owner and project manager for Bumpy’s Steel Erection in East Saint Louis got her start in the steel installation and steel erection industry working as an ironworker over 30 years ago. Harris pointed out that diversity programs highlight qualified minority- and woman-owned businesses to contractors, agencies and owners that would otherwise be overlooked. “These programs have provided an economic opportunity that has begun to level the construction playing field for many small minority and female business owners and their workers,” said Harris. “Such programs give the local community’s businesses and workers an opportunity to achieve the American dream.”

“I think diversity is very important and needed in all areas of business,” said Lionel Phillips, owner of Phillips Concrete Services, a minority-owned and operated ready-mix concrete supplier serving the St. Louis metropolitan area. “It is especially important in the construction industry on jobs supported by public funding or sponsored by major corporations who are civic and employment leaders in their communities.”

According to Phillips, of the 20 plus projects they are currently working on, a large majority required diversity inclusion. “We are utilizing these opportunities to develop a growth pattern that we hope will be controlled and sustainable,” said Phillips. “The projects that we have been awarded that require diversity inclusion are offering us a stream of day-to-day work that is helping to enhance our reputation, is keeping our drivers employed and is proving to the market that we are a viable option for all types of ready mix concrete projects, big or small, public or private.”

Phillips is currently planning an expansion of their ready mix truck fleet, with a goal of having twenty, or more, trucks by the end of 2016. With that growth, they plan to hire 25 to 30 individuals to support the expansion. “Long term, we hope that Phillips Concrete Services can survive to be handed down to the next generation of family members through that controlled and sustainable growth plan,” said Phillips.

This long term planning and influx of new involvement in the industry could be one answer to the shrinking pool of skilled labor.

“We recognize in the state of Missouri, which is in a trend across the country, we are in a situation where 70 percent of our construction workforce is 45 and older,” said Lester. “If we are not continuing to train younger talent to come in, and if we don’t make that effort now then we’re going to have a hefty price to pay later.” Later is coming quicker than most people think, he added. “Twenty percent of that 70 percent is 55 and older.”

It’s worth the investment now to train these new workers, according to Lester, and the cost is the same to train workers of all gender, race and ethnicity.



“Clayco’s overall philosophy of ‘Beyond the Walls’ recognizing that yes, we’re building a building, and using very innovative technology, but beyond the walls,” said Marks, “is the fact that there is going to be a structure standing in that community that will be there for a long time.”

“Our communities won’t completely change overnight,” said Marks. “But overnight I have seen amazing people change lives, one company at a time, one person at a time.”

Clayco’s design-build project has infused the area with energy and sparked new development and construction. As the project moves towards completion, it will continue to impact and bring opportunity to the community as a whole.

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