By Sophia Klein
Hastings, Minnesota — For a parent, every steppingstone a child takes toward independence is worth celebration, but the day that 35-year-old Erica Crosby’s youngest daughter could hop on the school bus without her mother’s help, Crosby celebrated in an unconventional way.
That very day, Crosby quit her job and marched right over to Ames Construction to apply for an apprenticeship.
“My dad worked at Ames Construction for 35 years. At the start of my career, I worked a 9-to-5 job just so I could be home with my kids, but I knew I always wanted to follow in his footsteps and work in construction,” said Crosby. “Now, I love my job. It is 100% rewarding.”
While Crosby always knew her dream was to work in construction, she didn’t know exactly what trade would suit her best. She began her apprenticeship as a laborer, until one day in the field when inspiration struck.
“I got sent out to the field, and I looked over and thought, ‘What is that?’” said Crosby. “In the sky there was this huge crane with a pile hammer on it. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I joined the pile drivers’ union immediately after that and I could not be any happier. It is my calling.”
Crosby is currently in her third year out of a four-year apprenticeship with Pile Drivers Local 1847. She notes that her children are her biggest supporters.
“My kids tell all of their friends that their mom builds bridges, and they think I’m bad-ass,” said Crosby. “They brag about me all the time. Do you know how amazing that makes you feel?”
Crosby’s one regret is not starting her pile driving career sooner.
“I would kick my 18-year-old self for not joining earlier. I always thought, just because I was a mom, that I wouldn’t be able to join right away,” said Crosby. “But they do respect parents. You’re not going to be away from your kids, you get a great retirement plan, and the benefits for insurance are unbelievable.”
Walking Below Water
Crosby said her favorite project that she has worked on — so far — is the I-35W Minnesota River Bridge.
“Working on that bridge was life-changing,” said Crosby. “We had to surround the piers with these steel sheets and interlock them together to create a seal. Then we pumped out all the water so we could work below the water. It is an amazing feeling to experience the water way up above me, while I am walking way down on the bottom of the river.”
As one might guess, it takes a high degree of determination and attention to detail in order to bring a project of this scope to completion.
“You’re not just holding a shovel. You are building America,” said Crosby. “The mindset you have to go in is, ‘No, I’m keeping people safe. What I’m doing is building a structure that’s going to be there for the next hundred years, and I cannot have the measurements off.’ It takes a lot of dedication.”’
Crosby carries around a well-earned feeling of pride knowing she is trusted with the task of building infrastructure that thousands of Minnesotans will use every day.
“Do you know how cool it is to drive around Minnesota and think, ‘I built that?’” said Crosby. “It is the best feeling ever.”
Right Out of the Gate
As someone who wishes she had started her construction career sooner, Crosby has no shortage of advice and well wishes for the next generation of construction professionals.
“Get in as soon as you can,” said Crosby. “They’re paying you to go to school, and your wages start high even with no experience. If you join right at 18, my gosh, you could retire between 55 and 60. It’s just awesome.”
Crosby notes that this is a particularly appropriate career path for young adults who have been bit by the travel bug.
“If you want to travel, you can get paid to see the whole entire United States,” said Crosby. “We have jobs in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona, and California, to name a few. You can work find yourself working between the mountains and on the water.”
Crosby’s final piece of advice is to simply believe in yourself.
“If I can do it, anyone can. I’m only 5’4’’, which is not very big, and I can do it,” said Crosby. “You just have to have the passion for it.”
Interested in a Rewarding Career in Construction Through Apprenticeship?
The Construction Careers Foundation helps connect young people with registered apprenticeships in Minnesota’s building and construction trades. To learn more about apprenticeship opportunities in Minnesota, visit https://constructioncareers.org/apprenticeship/.
To learn more about a career in pile driving, visit https://constructioncareers.org/careers/pile-drivers/.