It happens to the best of us, no matter how hard we try to avoid it; we all end up like our parents in some way.
Growing up in a union family, Eric Houske’s dad ran the apprenticeship and training program for Heat & Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 34 – these are the folks responsible for mechanical insulation that helps save energy and reduce greenhouse emissions, among other responsibilities. And despite the great life Eric had growing up as a result, he was ready to create his own path.
“It was my dad’s gig – I just didn’t have an interest in attempting to fill his very big shoes in the training center,” Eric said.
For three and a half years, Eric attended the University of St. Thomas, taking time away to work odd jobs to pay down his tuition. This seemed unsustainable to Eric’s dad, so he recommended an earn-as-you-learn union apprenticeship, something he could do while still taking college courses. Knowing it would provide a decent wage – certainly better than his odd jobs – Eric agreed, with the intention of keeping school first priority and the union as a temporary solution.
One day, his dad called in a pinch looking for a substitute instructor for a two-week training course. Twenty years later, Eric plays an instrumental role in the growth and development of the apprentices that go through the program. What was once a short-term solution evolved into Eric’s true calling.
For 12 years, Eric worked alongside his dad as an instructor in the training program for Local 34. By 2009, the elder Houske was ready to retire, passing the Local 34 Apprenticeship Coordinator baton to his own son.
Over the past two decades, Eric has watched members grow up as they go through their apprenticeships, just as he did when afforded the opportunity.
“These apprentices come in as kids. Our role is to guide them through this pivotal moment of their lives,” Eric said. “I’ve watched hundreds of participants develop into the craftsmen they are today. It extends so far beyond the technical skills. For many, our program is the first time these young people understand the unique value they are adding to the world.”
Eric focuses on fundamentals with the apprentices, setting the bar high for the level of quality standards required to be successful in skilled trades work. Once participants enter year four of their training, Local 34’s program encourages its more seasoned apprentices to compete against representatives from surrounding locals. Participants go head-to-head in skill-based competitions, encouraging buy-in and providing recognition to those who put forth the effort.
While Eric may not have had this career path planned out when he was 18, he feels rewarded every day by the progress and accomplishments his apprentices experience.
“When you nearly kick out an apprentice, then watch him turn his life around to the point he becomes the local’s representative four years later, it’s gratifying to be part of the building trades that give people the opportunity to succeed,” Eric said.
It’s these stories that fulfill Eric in his daily work as Local 34’s apprenticeship coordinator, and Eric’s dad felt that satisfaction too.
Eric’s initial apprehension to work in the trades came out a fear that he wouldn’t measure up to the legacy his father left on Local 34. With 20 years of expertly trained union insulators behind him, and plenty more to come, it’s clear that Eric followed his true calling.