STLCC EnviroTech Program Elevates Participants and Communities Alike

By on May 8, 2019
Environmental Remediation Graduates

A palpable sense of hope entranced the crowd when Corey Mayo addressed the recent graduates of the Environmental Remediation Technician (EnviroTech) training program. As a 2016 graduate, Mayo’s story resonated with students when he passionately relayed how the program helped him trade in a challenging past for the promise of a better future.

“I was you,” Mayo declared as he faced the students. “Three years ago is when I decided that I’d had enough of my old way of life. I was tired of riding that wave, and I wanted to do something better for myself. I’ve got two kids and I wanted to do something better for them.”

Just like the graduates, Mayo seized the life-changing opportunity to attend the free, six-week EnviroTech training program offered by St. Louis Community College in partnership with Saint Louis University’s College of Public Health and Social Justice, Center for Environmental Education and Training.

The program is backed by the EPA’s Brownfields and land revitalization initiative, which began in 1995 when the EPA realized that many of the regulations that were put in place to protect the environment and public health could have a potentially negative effect on the perception or development of impacted neighborhoods. For instance, a gas station abandoned by owners who couldn’t afford to fix leaking underground storage tanks commonly turned into a piece of vacant property, no longer providing employment or producing tax revenue and potentially attracting vandalism or illicit activity. The Brownfields initiative incentivized business owners to develop these properties while bringing high-paying abatement and environmental remediation jobs to the community.

Since its inception in the year 2000, STLCC and SLU’s EnviroTech program has prepared almost 500 participants for a highly-regulated field in which opportunities abound. Environmental remediation workers provide meaningful service to their community while earning a sustainable wage in an industry the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites as having a faster-than-average growth rate.

“This is a very regulated industry by the EPA, OSHA, state government and so on,” said Dr. Chris King, director at Saint Louis University’s Center for Environmental Education and Training. “So, unless you have the specific training and licenses, you’re on the sidelines.”

An extensive environmental remediation program with evidence of success

Program curriculum is broken into various modules that qualify students for 20 valuable licenses and certifications in Missouri and Illinois, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10-hour construction and safety, 40-hour hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER) and more. Coursework even covers ecosystem restoration to ensure students can tap into the emerging “green jobs” market.

“This program offers a portfolio of certifications that, for the right person, really opens the doors in this industry,” said Rene Dulle, STLCC environmental remediation training program manager. “I’ve seen a lot of success over the years with this program.”

Such evidence of success can be seen in the program statistics. As part of her oversight of the program, Dulle works closely with employers to uncover career pathways for the graduates. Just last year they had an astounding 91% job placement rate.

Dulle’s personal journey with each cohort begins months ahead of time. One of her key responsibilities is to scrupulously select the 12 students who get to attend the program out of nearly 80 applicants. Recruitment for applicants includes partnering with several community-based organizations as well referrals from past graduates of the program who are now successful in their careers. Minimum requirements include a high school diploma or equivalent, a driver’s license and the ability to work in an environment that requires physical labor. In addition, prospective environmental remediation students must attend a group information session and complete a professional interview. Candidates selected to move forward must also pass a drug test to ensure they will appeal to a hiring employer.

“It’s a tough decision,” Dulle admits. “I think about who is most serious about completion and working in this industry. I think about what network they already have that might make them successful.”

Knowing they were selected against the odds to participate in the program is a source of motivation for many of the students.

“To be selected out of the people we got chosen from…she believed in us out of all of those people,” student Erick Walker said. “We were chosen for a reason, so we knew we had to finish this.”

Students from St. Louis Promise Zone launch a career that impacts the community

The environmental remediation technician program plays a pivotal role in improving the lives of participants and the community in which they live. In fact, seven out of the 14 students from this graduating class live in the St. Louis Promise Zone, a federally designated area that qualifies high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities for funding and resources aimed to increase economic activity, improve educational outcomes, reduce serious and violent crime, invest in transformative development and improve health and wellness. EnviroTech students not only gain credentials and an awareness of environmental issues, but they also take pride in their newfound responsibility to care for their community.

“You might very well be the most knowledgeable person on the job site about some of these things,” King reminded the students. “Embrace that. That’s something that you’ve got now. If you have friends living in sub-standard housing or you are at a job site where there’s a hazard, be the voice.”

This concept hit home with Walker, who has since developed a more sensitive eye for hazards and environmental concerns because of the program.

“I see a lot of things differently now. When I get back out in the field, I’ll know even more of the ins and outs and I’ve been really paying more attention to things,” he admitted, smiling as he gazed at his surroundings. “Like when I see chips on walls, I’m looking for lead now.”

Walker already had a background working in the construction industry, and when he heard about the program from a family member, he instantly recognized the opportunity to earn credentials that would lead to better employment prospects.

“I’ve been in the field for a while already and I know that once you have more certifications and more licenses, the better your opportunity to move up,” said Walker. “So when I saw the chance to join the program, I just jumped on it.”

Like Walker, many of the environmental remediation technician students joined the program because they knew someone personally who experienced success in the industry. Fellow graduate Steven Day Jr. first heard about the program from his cousin.

“It’s a great program to get into,” said Day. “With the education, certificates and licenses you get in these six weeks, all you have to do is just apply yourself because you have individuals who are backing you. If anyone gets the opportunity to take this class, I truly recommend doing it. It would otherwise take years and thousands of dollars to get this.”

The students expressed deep appreciation for the interest the program facilitators had in their success, naming it as a key reason they were able to absorb as much as they did in just six weeks.

“We had some real great teachers,” said Walker. “They were really drilling [the information] in us in the short period of time that they had. They gave great examples, led you to the answers, and it was hands-on.”

From asbestos abatement to ecosystem restoration, the job options seem endless

While environmental remediation technician program students get in-the-trenches experience and notable credentials, they are also trained in critical skills like how to build a résumé and find a job, which furthers their sense of confidence and improves the likelihood they will land employment post-graduation. In addition, prospective employers are often present at the program graduation ceremonies, eager to share job opportunities and develop relationships with the students that could lead to career paths.

“The class is over, but they still want to help us with building résumés and getting jobs,” said Walker. “When you have someone standing behind you, there’s no excuse. We got qualified and set on a path. We’ve been given a gift.”

It’s the comprehensive training and network of support that allows the program to have a truly life-changing impact on the participants, as former student Mayo pointed out in his speech at the graduation ceremony.

“I know guys who went to prison and then went through this program and now they’re running companies. They are the boss. Now they’ve got a pension, take care of their whole family, and are living the good life,” Mayo said. “There’s nothing separating them and you, but determination will. How much are you willing to do? How far are you willing to go?”

The recent EnviroTech program graduates are setting their sights high now that they have these past six weeks and a long list of credentials under their belts.

“It was hard, but we made it,” Walker declared proudly. “With the licenses you get, I don’t see how you can’t succeed. I’m going straight for it. I’m going to come back Monday and push out my applications online.”

The six-week training program starts in varying cycles throughout the year. More information can be found on STLCC’s EnviroTech page online or by contacting Rene Dulle at 314-539-5296.

About Rebecca Rutherford

Rebecca Rutherford is Marketing Communications Coordinator of St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group, which delivers non-credit continuing education opportunities, corporate training and community services to the St. Louis region.

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