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Former Autoworker Now an Advocate for Workforce Training as State Representative
April 18, 2011
|Mo. Rep. Clem Smith, center, hosted visitors from St. Louis Communtiy College last
month during the Missouri Community College Association's Rally Day in Jefferson City.
Pictured with Smith are Laura Stevens, manager of campus auxiliary services at STLCC-
Florissant Valley, and Hosani Webster, a student at Florissant Valley.
Clem Smith has lived through the harsh realities of the economic recession, and now is an advocate for the working class in the Missouri Legislature.
A third-generation autoworker, Smith lost his job at the Chrysler Assembly Plant after 13 years when the recession forced its closure in 2009. Through a partnership program between Boeing and St. Louis Community College, Smith not only had an avenue out of unemployment, but he also had a job with Boeing within three months. He currently is an aircraft assembly mechanic.
STLCC's Aerospace Pre-Employment Training Project creates a pool of candidates for positions as sheet metal assembler-riveters with Boeing. There is no cost to participants, but they must meet all screening requirements, entry test scores and be selected for the program. Students must successfully complete the whole program in order to be considered for employment within Boeing.
“I got information about the program through a coworker and the Machinists Union president,” Smith said. “I left Chrysler in June 2009, got into this program in July, graduated by October and got the job with Boeing at the end of October. The program was very much like a job – 8-1/2 hours a day for 10 weeks. It was intense, but the instructors made sure you had the knowledge and tools you needed to succeed.”
From the project’s inception through Dec. 31, 2010, 279 participants have been served, creating a ready pool of applicants on waiting lists – and 112 successfully have completed aerospace training. For the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2010, 66 graduates have entered training-related employment.
While aerospace and automotive manufacturing practices are different, Smith noted that transferrable skills made his transition a little smoother. A little skill fine tuning, he noted, can get people into other industries. A former Chrysler coworker, for example, enrolled in STLCC’s biotechnology program and now is working at the Bio-Research and Growth Development Park at the Danforth Plant Science Center.
“These programs work,” said Smith, who has a liberal arts degree from Columbia College. “As I went through the Boeing program, I learned more about St. Louis Community College and found that the college has a wide variety of program and classes. I know people want to work, and St. Louis Community College provides opportunities for people to retrain and get into other industries, whether it’s biotechnology, science, automotive or construction. The college has a program for it.”
Smith now hopes to become a voice for working men and women in Jefferson City in his role as representative of the 71st District in the Missouri House of Representative. Smith is no stranger to politics. A former campaign volunteer, Smith was elected recording secretary of United Auto Workers Local 136 and also to the UAW’s statewide Political Action Committee. When Don Calloway opted to run for the Missouri Senate, Smith was encouraged to run for his vacated 71st District seat and was elected in 2010. He currently serves as Deputy Minority Whip, treasurer of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, and sergeant-at-arms of the Labor Caucus.
“I want to help people get back to work,” Smith said. “I know we have a highly trained, skilled work force. We build things and do research very well. I am a product of workforce training. My goal is to do meaningful work and help the people of Missouri by ensuring we make every attempt to bring high-paying, good-benefits jobs to this region.”