Do you enjoy working with your hands? Do you love solving complex problems? Do you enjoy working in the outdoors? Do you enjoy the satisfaction of seeing something you’ve built?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you may want to consider a career in construction.
Many young people don’t realize that there is more than one path to success. In other words, attending a four-year college isn’t the only way to start a rewarding career.
There’s another path. And believe it or not, you can actually get paid while you learn the skills you need to build a career that will last you a lifetime. An apprenticeship with a construction trade union allows young people who are at least 18 years old, and who have earned their high school diploma, to learn how to become an electrician, a pipefitter, a plumber, an ironworker and much more. In fact, according to the Construction Career Foundation, a nonprofit based in Minnesota that helps young people connect with registered construction apprenticeships, there are more than 30 careers in construction that you can pursue.
“A registered apprenticeship with a construction trade union takes from three to five years to complete,” said Sarah Lechowich, senior director for the Construction Careers Foundation. “It involves working at a construction site, where you’re trained by a journeyman, and classroom training.”
With an apprenticeship, there’s little if any costs, which means at the end of the apprenticeship, you’ll have a skill that you can use for a lifetime — without incurring tens of thousands of dollars in college debt.
To start your career in construction, follow these eight tips shared by the Construction Careers Foundation:
1. Pick a trade – Which trade best fits your personality and skill set? Visit ConstructionCareers.org, which offers details about more than 30 construction careers. The website offers descriptions about each trade, videos of real construction workers and details about pay and benefits.
2. Make sure you’re qualified – To be accepted into a construction trades union apprenticeship, you need to be at least 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license, a high school diploma or a GED equivalent, and for some apprenticeships, successfully pass an aptitude test administered by the trade union to which you’re applying. By the way, construction isn’t just for men — more and more women are starting construction careers every day.
3. Still in high school? – If you’re still in high school, load up on math and communications courses — today’s construction workers need to know math and they need to know how to communicate clearly — because you work on a team in the real world. Take any courses that your high school offers in construction to start getting hands-on experience.
4. Talk to your parents – Many, if not most, parents urge their kids to go to college. If you have a feeling that college isn’t right for you, talk to your parents and tell them you’d like to try an apprenticeship in construction. Point them to ConstructionCareers.org, which has a ton of information about why a registered construction trades apprenticeship is the best answer for you.
5. Talk to a construction worker – To better understand the rewards of a career in the construction trades, ask family and friends to connect you with construction workers so you can ask them questions about their careers. If you find it difficult to find a construction worker, check out these videos on the Construction Career Pathways channel on YouTube, which features short interviews with more than 20 construction workers.
6. Make the call – Some construction trade unions offer informational meetings for those who want to apply for an apprenticeship. Others will invite you in for an interview. After you’ve identified a construction trade that you’d like to pursue, contact the local construction trade union to get more information about their apprenticeship program.
7. Start the application process – Just like college, you need to apply for an apprenticeship. Some trades allow you to apply year-round; others have specific periods when you can apply. The Construction Trades app, available for download on Apple and Google Play stores, is a great source to learn about apprenticeship deadlines.
8. Get fit – Being an apprentice is hard work. It’s not an office job where you sit in a cubicle all day long. It involves getting to the job site, often at times like 7 a.m., and it will involve lifting tools and materials, and being on your feet throughout the day. Now is the time to start getting in shape and working on your strength and stamina.
“With a registered construction trades apprenticeship,” said Lechowich, “you’ll learn skills that you can use for the rest of your life. You’ll also be trained to build things to the highest standards, and you’ll learn the value and importance of safety. All while getting paid to learn.”