St. Louis Local 1 member Sylvester Taylor has been promoting diversity and inclusion in IBEW apprenticeships for years, so it was no surprise when he was selected to serve as a Department of Labor apprenticeship ambassador.
“Sylvester has a passion that runs deep in many endeavors," said Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs. "From his work with the IBEW to his mentoring of young men, his dedication is always 110%."
The Apprenticeship Ambassador Initiative was established to bring together industry, labor, education, equity and workforce leaders to partner with the department's Office of Apprenticeship to promote registered apprenticeships as a valuable workforce strategy in high-demand industries and to develop and expand opportunities for people who have been historically underserved. The initial cohort of 207 officials and organizations, which includes Taylor, was announced in July.
"Sylvester will be successful as an ambassador because he knows what it takes to be successful in the construction industry," Jacobs said. "He has been through the trenches and knows the road is tough, but if you don't quit or let someone tear you down, you will succeed."
For Taylor, promoting the IBEW's apprenticeship program is nothing new, and neither is doing so in historically underserved communities. It's what he's been doing for 25 years. One of the only things that has changed is that now he has a title: director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the IBEW/NECA Electrical Connection. The Electrical Connection is the partnership between Local 1 and the St. Louis-area NECA chapter.
"Sylvester is a leader and a true motivator. Outside of his impeccable style of dress, I am impressed with how his character and messages transcend age and racial barriers," said Powering Chicago Executive Director Elbert Walters, who is also an ambassador. "I appreciate his ability to communicate with our members on the front lines in the field and at the same time address and speak with purpose to the leaders of the IBEW and the government."
In addition to his director role, Taylor serves as recording secretary for Local 1, president and co-founder of its Electrical Workers Minority Caucus chapter and treasurer of his local school board.
"Being in the room to help my community is what drives me," Taylor said. "You can't paint your house standing on the curb. You have to get inside."
The ambassadorship program can look to Local 1 for an example of successful recruitment efforts, said Jacobs and Taylor. Apprenticeship classes have gone from 10-12% women and people of color to 27-30% in just under two years. And in the EV-charging class they currently have 50% women and people of color. They did it, Taylor says, by being proactive and not reactive.
"Sylvester is opening doors for our industry to a much broader base," Jacobs said. "With his efforts we are not only getting more people interested in our program, but we are getting stronger candidates."
Jacobs also noted that Taylor is talking to schools with large minority populations that don't use union electrical contractors. He points out to the schools that those nonunion contractors aren't talking to the kids about career opportunities, but the IBEW apprenticeship program is.
"He is coaching them and offering many of them a life-changing opportunity," Jacobs said. "And those connections have now secured work in those schools for our signatory contractors, which is work for Local 1 members."
Taylor also works with the EWMC on a mentorship program with the Division of Youth Services. Everyone is under 18 with a felony record and the EWMC works with them on things like getting their GED and eventually moving into a trade.
"If we can get more people into our apprenticeship, just think how many people we can get off the street and into the middle class," Taylor said.
Taylor says he wants to continue to increase the number of historically marginalized community members in the IBEW, but what he really hopes for is a day when jobs like his will no longer be necessary.
"My job as ambassador and DEI director is to make my job go away," Taylor said. "I want to make it so we don't have to do this anymore because we're already an inclusive workforce."
For Walters, the fact that he and Taylor, both Black men, are representing the IBEW in the ambassador program is a positive sign in itself.
"Having Black men as leaders and speaking on behalf of the IBEW, which historically has had an unfavorable connection with our community, is proof that the IBEW sees the benefit of diversity and inclusion," Walters said.
"Having voices from underrepresented groups allows for growth and true representation. As a proud member, it is inspiring to see that the IBEW is again leading the charge of change. There is still much work to be done, though, and both of us are aware of that much-needed work."