Joining the workforce

The BCI Skills Center is a first-of-its-kind vocational training facility for those with disabilities that partners them with local businesses

By Brett Auten

There is an innate satisfaction that comes with completing a job well done. 

Since 1959, St. Peters’ Boone Center Inc., has been enriching the lives of adults with disabilities by providing a wide selection of employment opportunities. Most recently, the nonprofit’s vocational training facility, aka the BCI Skills Center, celebrated its first anniversary. The BCI Skills Center is a first-of-its-kind facility for those with disabilities that partners them with local businesses to create custom programs.
 
Founded in January of 2019, the BCI Skills Center currently has three vocational programs that includes salesforce, manufacturing and hospitality housekeeping.  The center works with local businesses to design custom programs and, upon graduation, students move directly into the workforce where they earn a competitive wage.  Eight classes are currently in progress or completed with a total of 12 graduates to date.

Randy Pritchett, 29-years-old of Wentzville, is one of those graduates. Pritchett now does welding, among other responsibilities, at O’Fallon’s True Manufacturing.

“During my time at BCI, I learned a whole lot, specifically, about True Manufacturing,” Pritchett said. “Now, not only do I have my work responsibilities, but I also help train new employees.”

The Skills Center is a completely new and unique model that took years of planning and preparation. By partnering with local companies who agreed that people with disabilities can contribute meaningfully to their businesses, BCI is helping lead the charge in its “inclusion revolution” while helping local companies fill their employment needs.  

“What we’ve experienced with the BCI Skills Center graduates so far – the care, the want-to, the concern – it’s obvious with them,” Steve Young of True Manufacturing, a first Skills Center vocational partner, said. “And the knock-on effect is that it’s infectious. Their care, their concern, their passion has had a contagious effect on non-disabled True team members, which is fantastic.”

Todd Streff is the Executive Director of the Skills Center.

“It has been a great learning opportunity and amazing to see the growth of these individuals,” Streff said. “These employees are held to the same standard and the same expectations of anyone else and they fully meet the need. Before they even start the job they know they know the culture, they meet their supervisors so when it’s time to transfer they are very familiar with each other.”

BCI CEO Ron Kloppenburg spoke of the pride the organization has felt in its first year of operations, and is looking forward to expanding its programs soon.

“Our BCI Skills Center allows us to partner with businesses in the community that embrace diversity and seek excellent members to join their team,” he said.

Streff said that goal moving forward is to find more students.

“Eighty percent of individuals with disabilities are under-employed,” Streff said. “We want to get them in these jobs that are paying competitive wages. These are not handouts. We need to get into those numbers and get them integrated into the work setting.”

All BCI programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) International, which assures a commitment to program and service quality with a focus on the satisfaction of those served. BCI is headquartered at 200 Trade Center Dr. W in St. Peters and currently employs more than 300 adults with disabilities at its production facilities and through its competitive employment programs.  For more information, call 636-978-4300 or visit www.boonecenter.com.

“These are stimulated, super-proud, and diligent employees,” Streff said. “They have the same goals and same aspirations as anyone else and they are capable and ready to meet the expectations of the job.”

CUTLINE: Submitted photos

Cover-BCI1 The first class of BCI Skills Center graduates with True Manufacturing company representatives.

Cover-BCI2 BCI Skills Center graduate Randy Pritchett.

Cover-BCI3 Glenn Plank (left) receives his certificate after graduating from BCI Skills Center.