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Earn While You Learn: Join A Construction Trades Union to Begin Your Career as a Construction Apprentice

If you’re pursuing a construction apprenticeship, consider the benefits of joining one of Minnesota’s 48 construction and building trades unions.

When you join a union, people have your back — more than 70,000 people, in fact. Minnesota union construction professionals are known and respected for upholding the standard for quality construction in the state.

Becoming a union trades professional can be a highly rewarding career for many reasons.

You can start your career at an early age, without the worry of student loan debt; the benefits and pay are great, and you can see the results of the work you do every day, to change and shape the world.

“Unions are pivotal in securing protections and negotiating benefits for Minnesota’s construction professionals,” said Sarah Lechowich, senior director for the Construction Careers Foundation. “Safety and health, overtime, and family/medical leave and the enforcement of those rights on the job are just a few of the benefits a person gets by being part of a union.”

Joining a union, especially when starting the apprenticeship process provides training certified by the State of Minnesota, which allows new apprentices to gain skills, earn while they learn and if necessary complete an exam at the end of his/her apprenticeship to become licensed.

Skills learned in the construction trades can be used for a lifetime. Young apprentices quickly learn their skills have applications outside of work and can be used at home and in the community. (Photo Credit: Emily Sweeney)

“Construction companies want to hire union workers,” Lechowich said. “Being a part of a union means the training apprentices received is consistent and follows state guidelines, so companies trust union workers to finish projects on deadline and do the work correctly.”

The Construction Careers Foundation, a Twin Cities nonprofit organization, is leading a state-wide effort to raise awareness among high school students, parents and educators about the benefits of a career in the building and construction trades and how to take that first step toward a union apprenticeship.

Within Minnesota, the main purpose of labor unions is to give workers the power to negotiate for more favorable working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining. The results of collective bargaining include higher wages and better benefits.

“Union workers get about 20 percent more in terms of wages (not including benefits) compared to others in similar jobs that aren’t supported by a union,” Lechowich said. “Union workers are also more likely to enjoy consistent pay raises on a regular basis because of the collective bargaining agreement and enjoy other benefits like health, retirement accounts, and paid sick leave which supports a healthy lifestyle.”

While there are many tangible benefits that come from being a part of a union, professionals interviewed by Construction Career Pathways overwhelmingly credit camaraderie, as being one reason they enjoy being part of a union.

For Sharlo Strickler, a second-year tile setter apprentice through the BAC Local 1 Minnesota/North Dakota/South Dakota Tilelayers and Bricklayers Union, the best part of being a union member is the people.

“I love being a union member. People always have your back. It truly is a brotherhood/sisterhood,” Sharlo said. “We have weekly safety meetings, and it’s a nice way to network with other trades. You cannot go wrong with being in a union.”

Sharlo has first-hand experience receiving the benefits of being in a union.

“My kids like my career as a tile setter. We are now able to take more vacations and camp more,” Sharlo said. “As a single mom, it’s nice being able to provide for my kids. With the extra income, I can add to their savings account which is something I didn’t think I would be able to do.”

Visit ConstructionCareers.org for more information on the apprenticeship process and the benefits of joining a union. Also resource the page to learn more about the 30+ careers in Minnesota’s construction industry.