Minnesota Trades Academy (MTA) interns learn the importance of teamwork and dedication through the Minneapolis Plumbers JJATC.
Maple Grove, Minnesota – Look around. Our lives depend upon water and many other things that flow through pipes. And if you follow the pipes, you’ll see that plumbers are needed everywhere. Our homes, airports, food trucks, skyscrapers, apartment buildings, hospitals, stadiums – you name it – there is hardly an institution or structure that is not in need of highly professional plumbing services.
Like many trades in construction, plumbing is an essential and integral piece of our world that is often misunderstood. What the Minnesota Trades Academy (MTA) successfully implements is an opportunity for young adults to experience a deep introduction to the construction trades that they won’t find anywhere else – including the vast world of plumbing. The options for the future seem endless. That’s why exposure is the key to helping young people learn about opportunities in the trades.
The Minnesota Trades Academy is a program by the Construction Careers Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase the diversity of entrants into the construction trades and foster long-term construction careers. MTA is a summer internship program that supports this mission by offering paid summer construction internship experiences for selected high school youth. The goal of the program is to help youth prepare for adulthood through skill development, personal development, and knowledge on how to access good jobs with good benefits in the construction industry.
The Minneapolis Plumbers Joint Journeyman & Apprentice Training Committee (JJATC), the training center for the Plumbers Local 15, is one of 269 locals spread across the nation. Local 15 has hosted MTA interns for several years now, inviting them into the facility to see what it takes to become a plumber. This grand establishment is filled with various spaces that simulate a plumbing worksite with mock piping systems and digging grounds full of gravel. The space also has a series of classrooms where apprentices attend safety and informational courses that diligently prepare them for their futures.
MTA interns arrived on site at the Minneapolis Plumbers JJATC at 9:00 am, phones tucked away, ready and willing to learn. One by one, interns introduced themselves to Terry Brathwaite, instructor at the Minneapolis Plumbers JJATC, who made one thing very clear, straight away: being a plumber is not a job, but a career.
“Anybody can do it, but not everybody wants to do it,” said Brathwaite. As a reminder that there are high-demanding requirements within the trade, interns are quickly introduced to the intense mental and physical aspects of being a plumber. It is not easy work – none of the trades are – but on the flip side, there is something extremely gratifying about working hard and seeing a tangible result from your work.
“With this trade, you have got to want it. You have to have the drive and dedication to push forward. You’re going to be paid well, compensated well, educated well – but you’re going to work for it. It’s not just going to be given to you,” said Trevor Ogilvie, Training Director for the Minneapolis Plumbers JJATC. “In the construction trades, you get that self-fulfilling worth because at the end of the day, you stand back and see not only what you did, but also what the other trades you coordinated with did as well. Everyone works together. This career provides a lot of self-worth and accomplishment.”
Ogilvie walked the MTA interns through the facility, showing them classrooms where apprentices take courses on mathematics and safety – two very important aspects in plumbing.
“Every piece of pipe you cut has measurements. Every hole you drill also has measurements — and they need to be exact,” said Ogilvie. “Having strong mathematical skills is very important.”
If math isn’t your strongest subject, don’t fret. Ogilvie said that many apprentices who didn’t enjoy math in school actually excel in the subject within the context of the apprentice training program, which makes a distinct connection between the numbers you write on a page and the physical outcome of a project.
Working in this trade comes with a responsibility to make sure you and your peers are safe on site. Plumbers are required to know basic safety procedures and attend yearly classes to make sure their certifications are up to date.
One area of the training center simulates the process of structuring plumbing for use in the medical industry – a specialized route in the plumbing trade that deals directly with hospitals and patient safety. As with any path in the trade, safety is an absolute priority when handling medical gas, and Ogilvie does not waste a beat to remind the interns about the importance of taking the job seriously.
At the end of the tour, Ogilvie and Brathwaite put the MTA interns to work. The instructors take the interns to a dedicated training space, provided them with shovels, and sent them off to begin a digging task. MTA interns started moving their shovels, pushing around the gravel to uncover buried pipes. The area quickly fogged up with dust, yet the interns persevered and worked together to locate the hidden pipes.
“They’re encouraged to be organized, outgoing, and positive, because it is a grind. When you’re digging or hauling pipes for days on end, you’ll need that drive and that good attitude or else you just won’t make it. You have to find a way to stay positive on the hardest days. So, by the time the project’s done, they’ve found a way to lift each other up and be positive together,” said Ogilvie.
Though every tradesperson is subject to hard work, some may encounter difficulties on-site that others do not. According to Brathwaite, when he first began working in the trades, he was often the only black man on a job site. This was discouraging and difficult for Brathwaite, who wanted to be accepted and valued for his work. Though he said the industry is much more diverse today, his advice to BIPOC young people on a job site is to, “Keep your square, and find that one thing that makes you get up every morning,” said Brathwaite.
No one should feel as though they have to work through these feelings alone. If you are struggling with inclusion on a job site, reach out to your union and inquire about finding community. Many construction unions have groups for underrepresented communities in the industry to find connection, support, and collective strength among one another.
A career in plumbing is limitless. Plumbers have endless career opportunities available to them, whether that’s working at water treatment plants, providing medical gas to hospitals, designing a pipe system for an apartment complex, or building the next big stadium.
“In my short 23 years working as a plumber, I started as an apprentice, then I was a foreman, then I was a project manager, then I became an inspector, and now I’m a training director. There’s the inspection route, or you can also move on to be an estimator,” said Ogilvie. “You don’t know what opportunities are out there for you if you’re not exposed to them. It’s important that we teach the interns about every opportunity that’s available to them.”
Spreading the word to schools, teachers, and students is just as important as informing interns. Local 15 JJATC and other training centers are always open for informational sessions and facility tours. Learning more about construction careers is essential, and preparing aspiring young adults with math skills, hands-on projects, and hard work is vital for a career in the trades.
“Whether young adults find out it’s for them or not for them, go tell someone else about it. Go spread the word, raise awareness: tell a cousin, a friend, whoever. Spread the opportunity out there to your peers so we can get rid of the stereotypes surrounding plumbing. That’s why I believe institutions like MTA are so important,” said Ogilvie.
Educators seeking guidance in informing their students about a career in construction, or hoping to pass along the opportunity to join the Minnesota Trades Academy, can visit the Educator Resources page on ConstructionCareers.org.
For more resources regarding a career in construction, visit www.ConstructionCareers.org.
For more stories similar to this one, view the Construction Careers Foundation Success Stories page.