I Love These Guys

I’ve been preoccupied with budgeting and gobbling up as much hands-on work as possible the last several months. The most recent journeymen I’ve worked with have spoiled me because:

– They have great personalities and we have an easy rapport. I feel comfortable asking questions and we can joke around. Trust is inherent.

– They’ve helped me understand how our one little project ties in to the overall goal. We’ve been quick to confirm that we’re working from the same perspective.

– They have double-checked my logic and my measurements and turned me loose to fabricate and install our electrical components. We can have discussions about anything that needs to be re-done or things that might have been done better. I’m developing a feel and a fluidity with my tools: yet it’s not always perfect (yet). At least we can laugh about my moments of awkwardness. I’m definitely getting more efficient.

I’ve taken the time to give specific feedback and thanks to these guys. Sometimes, it’s easier to spew about the irritating work dynamics without taking the time to relish and share the positive ones. I don’t want to cultivate negative habits – although I admit the irritating times become funny in hindsight, usually.

Being a journey-level, licensed electrician doesn’t automatically confer stellar teaching mannerisms. Yet the core of an apprenticeship-style craft relies on a loose teacher/student relationship. This was one aspect of apprenticeship that confused me when I was considering my career change: apprentices will have many different supervising journeymen, foremen and co-workers to learn from during their journey. Of course, the corollary fear – based on my misconception – was, “What if I am stuck with an abusive asshole of a journeyman for five years?”

I had exaggerated images of me packing up my wire strippers and electrical meter into a canvas work bag and timidly walking onto job site after job site asking, “Will you take me on and mentor me? Can I learn from you?” It’s an image from Charles Dickens or from a vague pre-Industrial Revolution time. I had to ask specific questions to sort out the realities of my union apprenticeship. And, of course, my fears turned out to be my own works of fiction – like they usually are.

The notion of choosing an apprenticeship is still a big secret in the United States, and I wish it wasn’t. College seems to be the main “successful” option shoved at high school students. Yet take a look at the rich benefits of being a skilled tradeswoman:

– The training is paid, on-the-job supplemented by classroom hours.

– Just about every apprenticeship – no matter the trade – operates under state oversight. The classroom time can be converted college credit and adds up to be about the equivalent of an associate’s degree.

– Once finished with the apprentice phase of a trade, you emerge as a skilled and well-paid professional. The nonsense of jostling around for the first “real job” has already been bypassed.

– If working through a union, the pay difference between genders is mitigated through a collective bargaining agreement.

For me, a blue-collar, kinetic-based career has been rewarding. Soon, I’ll be back to the wages I was earning in 2005. And once I earn my license, I’ll be earning an extra 60% on top of my peak office wages: with extra quality-of-life factors, a dependable pension, and excellent health insurance benefits.


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