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Real Minnesotans have Successful Careers in Construction

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and share with your 16-year-old self some advice based on what you know now as an adult?

If you’re a teacher, guidance counselor or principal who is trying to help high school students navigate their choices after high school, stop by website or the Construction Careers Pathways YouTube channel which features more than a dozen videos of construction workers in their 20s, 30s and 40s who share their advice about going into construction.

In a number of these videos, a handful of construction workers admit they tried college and it wasn’t right for them.

With more than 30 different careers in construction to pursue, young Minnesotans may not be exposed to — or even think — the perfect career for them can be found in the construction industry.

But that’s exactly what the website and a free mobile app – Construction Trades – are designed to do: help students find a pathway to a rewarding, purposeful career in the construction industry as a skilled professional.

“We’ve interviewed real Minnesota construction workers about their trade and career path to give students insight about why they should consider a career as a highly trained construction professional,” said Sarah Lechowich, senior director for the Construction Careers Foundation.

After completing her apprenticeship, Mariah Lenon will become a journey-level laborer. One day, Lenon hopes to advance to a foreman and run her own crew. “I want to be able to pave the way for other women thinking of going into a trade,” Lenon said. (Photo Credit: Emily Sweeney)

The Success Stories on are loaded with advice about how to apply for an apprenticeship, what type of work is expected for each construction profession, and reasons why high school students should explore the trades while also exploring going to college or serving in the military.

These success stories show students that skilled trades professionals come from every walk of life.

“When we interview construction professionals, we always ask if there’s any additional information they want to share with us,” Lechowich said. “In nearly every interview we’ve done, the construction professionals said they wished someone – a teacher, a guidance counselor, a coach or a parent – had told them about careers in construction when they were in high school.”

“Even construction workers who were 4.0 students in high school who decided to try college,” she added.

Many of the tradespeople interviewed shared they went to college or joined the military because they felt pressure from family members, teachers and peers.

“Growing up, I was always told by everyone that I need to go to college to be successful,” said 28-year-old Mariah Lenon, who graduated from Minneapolis Community and Technical College with a degree in law enforcement, applied to hundreds of jobs and struggled to make payments on her mounting student debt.

“I ended up working in retail or working multiple jobs, I could barely make ends meet and I knew this was not the life I wanted,” Lenon said.

Today, Lenon is in the second year of her laborer apprenticeship through the LIUNA Local 563 union.

“As an apprentice, I earn three times more money than I did at any job before,” Lenon said. “I can finally provide for my family. We’re comfortable now — I just bought a house and I can even go on vacation.” (Read Mariah’s story.)


Diversity and Inclusion in Minnesota’s Construction Industry

Lenon said she was initially intimidated at the idea of starting an apprenticeship because she was a woman.

“When I thought of construction, I thought of old white guys,” Lenon said. “But that’s not true at all, my apprenticeship classes are diverse, I even have two other women in my class.”

Many young people don’t know that Minnesota’s construction industry is growing increasingly diverse.

“Our success stories showcase real Minnesota tradespeople,” Lechowich said. “I play these videos at our events and when we visit schools. I see students being inspired and empowered because the tradesperson in front of them looks just like them and now they have a career they love.”