Now in its fifth year, National Apprenticeship Week is a nationwide celebration that allows unions, communities, and educators to showcase their apprenticeship programs and apprentices while providing valuable information to career seekers. To date, there are currently more than 10,000 registered apprentices in Minnesota.
In a statement, the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council said that,
As part of the week’s events, four apprentice profiles from across the State were collected by the MN Trades Council.
Chevy, of St. Paul, is a second-year sheet metal apprentice and says earning while learning allowed him to be the first person in his family to buy a home. Emily, of Fridley, has two college degrees, couldn’t find work in her field, but found her career as an ironworker apprentice. Christian, of Duluth, is a third-year pipe trade apprentice after realizing that college wasn’t his passion. Laci, of St. Charles, is a first-year operating engineer apprentice who found a new career operating heavy machinery.
As a second-year union registered apprentice with the Sheet Metal Workers Local 10, Chevy spent the last few last weeks cutting custom pieces of metal for an elementary school construction project in Spring Lake, Minnesota. Working full time, he comes into the apprenticeship training center twice a week for classes, learning the specialty trade. “For years I had dead end jobs with no opportunity for advancement,” he said. “But now, I get to go to work, I love what I do and I learn something new every day.”
In three years, Chevy will be a journeyworker. In the future, he wants to own his own sheet metal shop and employ apprentices. “I want to give back. This opportunity has made me feel like a more accomplished person, that I have a purpose. I want others to have that chance too.”
Chevy explained that there are many benefits to being in a union – especially retirement and health care. “I have four kids, and I can take them to the doctor and not worry about how much it will cost. I have great health insurance for the first time.” Another benefit is financial security. Shortly after becoming an apprentice, Chevy and his wife became the first people in their families to buy a home. “My 13-year-old has his own room now, he’s very happy about that!”
“I encourage everyone to take that step towards an apprenticeship. I tell my friends and family about what the union offers and how it changed my life. My son wants to follow in my footsteps, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Emily has two college degrees, one in business and one in theater. After college, she looked for jobs where she could apply the skills she learned in school, but after working in customer service and at a coffee house, she decided to do some soul searching to find her true career path.
Emily thought a lot about what she enjoyed about her high school and college classes. “I realized that I missed building things,” she said remembering her theater tech classes where she got to build sets and learned how to weld.
Emily did some research online, looking into several different building trades careers and decided that the Ironworkers registered apprenticeship program looked promising. She visited the union hall, took an aptitude test and interviewed with the union. “In my interview, I told the Ironworkers that I know it’s a tough job, but I wouldn’t have applied if I didn’t think I could do it.”
As a 2nd year Ironworker apprentice, Emily’s favorite part of her job is structural work – securing beams by bolting them together. “Working makes you better. In the beginning, I felt like I was doing everything wrong, but the journeymen take the time to correct me when I make mistakes. You learn from them, and they are happy to help you.” Whether it is on a lift or out on a beam high in the air, Emily knows she’s found her career.
About 2 years ago, Laci realized she no longer found her desk job fulfilling. Wanting a new challenge, she stopped at her local workforce center in St. Charles to see if there were any interesting jobs for her. She learned that Operating Engineers run heavy machinery on highway and construction projects.
Laci thought that becoming an Operating Engineer was just the type of challenge she was looking for. She wanted a chance to be outside and to make a difference. She enrolled with the Rochester Workforce Development Inc. apprenticeship readiness program, then took the apprenticeship aptitude test. Getting a nearly perfect score on that test, she signed up for the Operating Engineer’s Registered Apprenticeship program.
“After my classroom instruction, I was able to go out in the field and put my new knowledge directly to work,” Laci said. “I worked on the Arden Hills 694/35W improvement project building on and off-ramps. It was a great experience.”
Grading dirt on the Arden Hills project was her first taste of the work she now loves. She says her favorite piece of heavy machinery is the motor grader and finisher. “It lays the groundwork for the concrete pour which becomes the highway surface.”
Laci is on track to finish her first 1,000 hours of on-the-job training in the Registered Apprenticeship Program this fall, which means a raise and more responsibility. “I love being an apprentice and learning skills for my new job.” This fall Laci will be working on landfills, demolition, and moving dirt. “I love seeing the product of my work,” Laci said.
After Christian graduated from high school, he became a summer helper at a mechanical contracting company learning about and working on plumbing projects. As the summer came to an end, Christian got ready to go to college. Midway through his freshman year, sitting in a required class for graduation, he thought about the fact that he was paying to sit and learn. At the mechanical contractor, he was paid to learn. “I didn’t like book learning. I knew I really liked hands-on learning and the accomplishment of building something.”
While he was in school, he applied and was accepted to be an apprentice in the local Pipe Trades Registered Apprenticeship program. He is now a 3rd year apprentice. “No two days are the same and the reward is seeing my work, what I built. I like driving around knowing that I’ve worked on many buildings in town.”
“My favorite part of the job is working with copper. When you like what you do, nothing is hard. I love the first time you turn on the heat in a building, and you have this amazing sense of accomplishment.”
Christian has worked on the Cooper Elementary expansion, the Two Harbors Hospital addition, Hermantown High School expansion, and the Rush City Prison. “I prefer to work on new construction or additions. They are cleaner, and they are easier to work on than 50-year-old pipes. That can be a real test of strength.”
During his first year as an apprentice, 20-year-old Christian bought his first new car. “While I’m learning my craft, I am earning a good salary. It’s sad, and all too common to see my friends finishing a four-year degree with massive amounts of debt.”
Christian is halfway through his 5-year apprenticeship program and is getting ready to purchase his first home.