Contact Us to Learn About Careers in the Trades
As Labor United gears up to head into high schools and community colleges to inform students of the potential career opportunities should they choose to forgo the four-year university route after graduation, we reached out to different building trades to request an interview. We wanted to gather information on how different people found their path to a career in the trades.
We know that not all schools around the country offer classes that expose students to the different trade careers, so we thought it would be important to introduce them to students who may not have had that exposure. Below is an interview between Labor United and a union carpenter.
Want to share YOUR story on how you found a trade job? Email Labor United at email@example.com to share your story about how you found a career in the trades.
Labor United: When were you first introduced to the idea that you had options after high school other than to attend a four-year university?
Union Carpenter: My first exposure to working in the trades came to me during my junior year of high school. I had an option between two electives to complete my schedule for my junior year– typing or woodworking. I knew I didn’t want to type since I thought I’d never need it so I chose Woodworking 1 and fell in love with the possibilities that I had to earn a good living. There are options out there for those who don’t want to be in an office all day.
LU: After graduation, what made you decide to choose trade job?
UC: I knew I didn’t want to work in an office or warehouse for 40 hours a week as my career. I chose the trades as a career, cabinet making at the beginning. I absolutely loved working with my hands and building things that people would use every day. I did this for three years in a few nonunion cabinet shops around the Chicago area. The pay was all right at the time and I was able to provide for my family, but my wife had to work so that we could provide for our child.
LU: How were your benefits those first three years?
UC: My health insurance only cost 20 percent of my paycheck and they had a retirement 401(k) that I could put money into and they would put a little of theirs into as well.
LU: How did you hear about the union?
UC: One day, my friend who was a carpenter called me up and asked if I would want to become a union carpenter. I had always wanted to do carpentry more than cabinets but I didn’t know where to start or how to get in the union. This was the pre-internet era so there wasn’t the research available to me like there is now.
LU: Did you take the job?
UC: I took the job and almost doubled my pay overnight. My health insurance covered my whole family and I didn’t have to pay a dime out of pocket. I started earning credits toward my retirement pension by just working and doing my job. So I got a paycheck earning $19.75 per hour and the extra benefits I earned by working at my job. If it weren’t for my friend calling me, I don’t know what I’d be doing now.
LU: How much does an apprentice make?
UC: The 1st year apprentice earns 40 percent of a journeyman, 2nd year earns 50 percent, 3rd year earns 65 percent and the 4th year earns 80 percent of journeyman wages. The 4th year is all on-the-job training where the journeyman is showing you the trade and making you a better carpenter. As of July 2017, the journeyman commercial carpenter is earning $46.35 per hour.
For the readers who want to know more specifically about the process of becoming a labor union apprentice, Labor United wants you to know that every trade’s admission process is a little different. The Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, for example, annually provides apprentice training to several hundred new tradespeople along with evening and weekend advanced training to another 12,000 journeyman carpenters, millwrights, lathers and a number of other specialty careers that fall within the expansive carpentry trade. Successful passing math, proficiency, and drug testing are required, and program applicants are asked to choose from the 17 specialties currently offered, from residential carpenter to heavy and highway carpenter to flooring installer, millwright or insulation installer, and are trained within their specialty from the day they walk through the training center doors.