16 Months Old: Advice I’d Give Myself Last Year (or any New Apprentice)

Last year feels like so long ago. I’m now a third term apprentice. Each term is about six months long and I have seven more terms to complete before I sit for my journeywoman/electrical license exam. Here’s the advice I wish I could have given myself about a year ago:

Relax
The pre-apprenticehip program and the union’s basic skills preparation were wrong. Read the rest of this entry »


The Break Up

Last week, I broke up with my electrical contractor. I need to see what other contractors offer and I want to look out for my best training interests.

My manager was pissed: I was punished for being the rat fleeing a sinking ship; or I was some kind of traitor because I wasn’t blithely waiting around. He called at the end of the day last Friday said, “I had work for you on Monday, but I heard you want to go to another shop. Which is it?” It felt like it was too late for me to accept bona fide electrical work from him. If he truly had a work assignment for me, I would have happily taken it. However, just the day before, he told me: 1) there wasn’t much on the horizon, but he’d let me know as soon as there was; 2) three other company apprentices were sitting out and waiting for work to pick up; 3) there were over 60 apprentices waiting for work through the training center; 4) the field is flooded with electricians right now because travelers are clamoring for a huge project in our area. He made it sound like I had no other choice but to stay loyal and wait. Read the rest of this entry »


On the Hook

This is the first week I’ve been “on the hook” and I don’t like it one bit. Work has slowed down to the point of my construction manager telling me, “We have no work for you, but we’ll call you as soon as something comes up.” Basically, I am receiving an unannounced furlough of indeterminate length or, through different lenses: unpaid vacation days. I like the sound of the latter much better. This is known as “staying on the hook” or “being on the hook”. Even though it would be easier and more comfortable to go with the flow and marry myself to this shop, I’m shaking myself outside my comfort zone and begging the apprentice training center to rotate me to a different contractor. Besides, I was never good at sitting around, waiting for the phone to ring! Read the rest of this entry »


1,000 Hours Old (The First Six Months)

I’ve turned 1,000! Each term in our apprenticeship is measured in on-the-job hours and accompanying formal class time. For me, this means I got a 5% raise and I’m in class one day a week for the fall term. This class day is unpaid and it’s no big deal to the employer; in fact, it’s an expected event. All electrical contractors understand their apprentices will be available four days a week rather than five when class is in session. Here’s how my class notification went:

– Me to my construction manager: “Hey, I just got my notice from the training center. I’m in class on Wednesdays starting October 3.”
– My construction manager to me: “OK. Fine.” Read the rest of this entry »


This is My Pack

For the first time, I’m interacting with other trades while on a job site. This is the largest electrical crew I’ve worked with (nine people, including me) and we’re surrounded by “iron heads” and “knuckle-draggers”. My fellow sparkies were quick to call the ironworkers by their slang terms and not their formal trade. Within the first 15 minutes, I heard legitimate gripes about their unsafe work practices. “We’re back in elementary school again! Watch out for those guys! They’re crude and unsafe.” On the second day, I listened to a fellow electrician tell me how his tool bag and safety vest (which was laying on top of the tool bag) caught fire because one of the iron workers was not paying attention to his welding area. It was $200 to replace the tools. Read the rest of this entry »


Pack Your Own Parachute

I’m about four months old as a first term electrician apprentice and so far, I’ve experienced six different job sites and at least 18 fellow electricians (most of whom are experienced journeywomen/journeymen). I’m grateful to my shop’s construction manager for shifting me around like this because I’m getting a good taste of work styles, material lay-out and personality types. Also, I get really nervous when arriving to a new job and new crew and being moved around like this has helped me relax and gain confidence when jumping into a new site.

Most journeymen (journeywomen) have been really generous with their advice.  One thing I hear frequently – and it surprises me – is, “You are responsible for your own safety!”  Read the rest of this entry »


Feeding the Awe

When I was about 10 years old, I played in the newly constructed houses in our neighborhood. It was a magical time when I could walk through walls and imagine how each house would evolve. The most magical afternoons were the times I found “coins” like these:Image

Depending on the afternoon, these could be magical wishing coins, powerful healing tokens given to an imaginary sorceress, or the means to be ridiculously rich. Read the rest of this entry »