Students take a cruise to learn about freight, transportation careers

As a part of the St. Louis Regional Freightway’s FreightWeekSTL 2023, students from Belleville East and West High Schools and East St. Louis High School, along with their school chaperones and others, took a riverboat cruise through the Ag Coast of America and learned about careers in logistics and transportation. (Photo courtesy of FreightWeekSTL)

The St. Louis Regional Freightway welcomed 16 high school students,  their school chaperones, and others on May 23 for a special FreightWeekSTL riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River that highlighted the Ag Coast of America. Several industry professionals talked to the students about the many career opportunities in construction, transportation and logistics, and gave insight on the high-paying jobs available and the path to secure them.

Participating students and educators from Belleville East and West High Schools and East St. Louis High School received a firsthand look at the Ag Coast, which is home to 16 barge transfer facilities.

The facilities can handle more than 150 barges per day, which is the highest level of handling capacity anywhere along the Mississippi River. At approximately 436,000 tons per mile, the barge industry in this 15-mile section of the river is nearly two-and-a-half times more efficient than its closest competitors, according to recent rankings from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We wanted to show students real life examples of the transportation, manufacturing and logistics industries in the bi-state St. Louis region,” said Mary Lamie, executive vice president of Multi Modal Enterprises for Bi-State Development and head of the St. Louis Regional Freightway, which hosted the cruise. “By including them on this specialty cruise, students and their teachers and counsellors gained insight into the abundance of jobs available in the region’s multimodal freight network that bring along numerous benefits, in many cases, right after high school.”

Many of the students were intrigued by the earnings potential of those jobs. [View video:Freight Week Cruise 2023]

“It helped me get a better understanding of what I want to do after high school,” said Deoddsa Smith, a sophomore at Belleville East High School. He was interested in the opportunity to earn $40 an hour operating equipment from an air conditioned cab at one of the river terminals and he saw that as an incentive to continue exploring a career in the freight industry.

Rick Barbee, executive vice president of SCF Marine, a barge and tug boat operating company, explained the students were the perfect audience for St. Louis Regional Freightway’s FreightWeekSTL event.

Steve Donahue, president of St. Louis-based engineering firm Horner & Shifrin, spoke to high school students on a recent riverboat cruise through the Ag Coast of America about the tremendous opportunities for young individuals to enter the engineering field on May 23. (Photo courtesy of FreightWeekSTL)

“We hire students right out of high school with no experience for operations of our terminals as well as at our harbor boat operations,” said Barbee. “We are also looking for technical graduates out of technical programs, whether it’s welding, mechanical or those type of operations. We hire people right to the deck of our harbor boats and, within four years, they can be a harbor pilot for us, earning well over $100,000.” He added that these students could have no debt at age 22.

Eric Fields, chief engineer at Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, which owns and operates two bridges in the downtown St. Louis area and provides switching service for the six class I railroads, also spoke to the students. He highlighted opportunities with the railroads and construction industry, ranging from mechanics and those laying railroad track to operating a freight train.

“We have a lot of jobs to fill,” said Fields.  “We need that pipeline to stay competitive as a region. Some of these industries will pay for your college.”

Educators aboard the 90-minute tour by boat were grateful for the interest expressed by the students in the St. Louis region’s role as a world-class logistics hub and they were pleased to see their eyes light up when they learned that a job as a barge operator is a great opportunity to travel and that a position welding underwater pays more than a typical welding job. Mandy Guinn, a college counselor at Belleville East and West High Schools, said the Ag Coast cruise was an incredible opportunity for her students to learn about careers in manufacturing and logistics since it is not usually something they think of.

“My job is to expose kids to as much as we can, because they only know what they know,” said Guinn.

Destinee Savage, a sophomore at Belleville East High School, said she was pleased to learn there are women in these industries too.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is a major factor contributing to the need for more workers in the infrastructure industry, as the bill provides new funding for public projects.

“Events like this are very critical to get people, young students, exposed to careers in engineering,” said Steve Donahue, president of St. Louis-based engineering firm Horner & Shifrin. He said the signing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act created 82,000 jobs in the engineering field. “There is an extreme shortage of engineers right now with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and we need to create more engineers to fill those needs.”

The Ag Coast of America riverboat cruise event was part of FreightWeekSTL, presented by the St. Louis Regional Freightway and Bi-State Development. The annual event, which was held May 22-26, included a full lineup of virtual panel discussions and other offerings that highlighted the unique role of the St. Louis region has in advancing major infrastructure projects and addressing global supply chain disruption.

For information about the content shared as part of FreightWeekSTL, visit www.FreightWeekSTL 2023. For information on the regular sightseeing riverboat cruises and other specialty cruises and entertainment available, visit