Simply put, I owe my union a huge debt of gratitude. Before joining the Plumbers Union in 2012 I was a lost soul. I graduated from Mounds View High School in 2005 and was determined to carve my own path in the world. I had big aspirations and thought that I, alone, could save the world. What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was stuck.
I was an above average student my entire life, taking advanced courses when possible and setting myself up nicely for my college transcripts. I applied to multiple schools and was accepted by them all. With so many opportunities how could one go wrong? Here is where my troubles began.
I entered my freshman year of college at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. I was just a few hours away from home, but far enough that I felt independent. Freshman year was the basics. Take general education classes, get my feet wet and try to grow a little. The problem was that even from day one, the college school system made me feel like I had to know what I wanted to do with my life. Honestly, I had no clue. I felt like a 4-year-old trying to pick out what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” A doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, an engineer, among many other options. It was overwhelming making it much harder for me to focus in classes.
After a mediocre freshman year where I enjoyed my new found freedom (maybe a little too much), I was still in the same situation. A college student with no immediate path to what I wanted to do. I decided an expensive private school was probably not my best option to figure out who I was or what I wanted to be. So the journey began.
Over the next 5 years I bounced between colleges. From St. Cloud State to the University of Minnesota to a two-year technical program at Century College – I tried everything from math to engineering to Ancient Mediterranean Studies (yes, that’s an actual major) and still never found my niche. Nothing interested me, and the more classes I took without finding something that peeked my interest, the less I enjoyed school and the less hope I felt. Slowly but surely I was racking up a debt that I thought would drown me, and I had nothing to show for it.
Finally in 2011 my father, a 30-year member of Local 15, suggested I apply for the apprenticeship through his union. In his mind it would be a good experience to make a little money, have a full-time job, and take a break from the student lifestyle I’d been living for the past six years. This is the same father who pushed me into college because he believed I was “too smart” to be a plumber.
Begrudgingly I applied, because what did I really have to lose?
I was accepted with 18 others in the summer of 2012 to begin my apprenticeship. From day one I couldn’t believe the effort that goes into a typical construction job. Of course being the new kid, with a strong back, you get to do the majority of the heavy lifting and trench digging. Still it was a hard days work, day in and day out. I went home exhausted, but always happy. At the end of every day, I could look back and actually see what had been accomplished. It was a physical achievement and something I took great pride in.
That first September was when reality hit. We had our apprentice orientation and we finally realized that not only did they require 40 hours of work from us a week, but two nights each week we would be attending four hours of training. This would go on for FIVE YEARS. The shock was short lived, and time flew by. I found myself loving the work I did, and I was actually interested in the classes I took. Instructors engaged with our class because they live the same life we did. Just like the apprentices, they’d work a full day and then find a way to come to class and teach us for four hours. And all the schooling was paid for by the Union.
It amazes me that after 11 years of schooling I will have no degree framed on my wall, no accolades or doctorates. I’ll have a simple piece of paper showing I’m a licensed plumber in the state of Minnesota. Honestly, there isn’t any other piece of paper I’d rather see in my house.
Before joining the trades, I was lost and directionless. Now everyday I wake up and can actually say I enjoy what I do and am proud of what I’ve become. Driving through downtown Minneapolis or Saint Paul, I can look at the skyline and point out projects and buildings I’ve worked in or helped build. I still see people whose houses I’ve been helped repair. I understand the importance of my trade and why we need so much education. Simply put, without Local 15, I have no idea where I would be now.