No Construction Experience, No Problem: Electrical Apprenticeship gives St. Paul Resident New Life Path

Apprenticeship advice from Toua Yang: “As a new apprentice, when you get onto the job site, just let your boss know what your knowledge base is. Then they’ll be able to assign you work that will help you learn and progress in the industry.” PC: Chue Vang

Saint Paul, Minnesota — Toua Yang started his first day as an electrical apprentice unfamiliar with how to use a drill and with no previous experience working in construction.

“It was intimidating at first – not knowing anything, just going up on a 6-foot ladder was scary, but now all of that is second nature to me,” Yang said. “A lot of other apprentices grew up with construction workers in their family or some sort of construction experience. I didn’t have that, so I had to set my own standard and commit to learning something new.”

Yang is now a second-year apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 110 through the Saint Paul Electrical JATC. He knows a career in construction as an electrical worker is what he’s meant to do.

“It just takes curiosity and commitment,” Yang said. “After working in this field for two years, you see how vital it is. Many people take it for granted because electricity is so available that you don’t have to think about it.”

A Pathway to Construction
Yang grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and spent his youth biking around and playing outside in the small city located on the shore of Lake Michigan. In high school, his favorite classes were language arts and art.

“Growing up in my town, it felt like everyone knew each other, and most people would describe me as easy going,” Yang said. “I work hard but I get along with everyone and I know those elements of my personality carry over to my success on the job site.”

After Yang graduated from high school, he attended college but did not complete a four-year degree.

“I remember I was looking forward to the experience (of college) but I was very unsure as an 18-year-old about what I really wanted to do,” Yang said. “I also was concerned about debt, but I had no concept of the type of loan I was taking out. I have never had $40,000 before so when I was signing my student loans, I had no concept of how much money that was or how long it would take to pay back.”

Eventually, Yang worked as a banker before deciding he had to start over.

“I was very confused in college and when I found out it wasn’t for me. I got a desk job but, in the office, it was either slow or I was overwhelmed with work and ended up taking it home,” Yang said. “There was no excitement and no work-life balance.”

Yang has enjoyed his experience working in construction because the nature of the jobs is project-based.

“You show up on site, complete the work and you literally can’t take it home with you,” Yang said. “That has been amazing for me. Then, after work is dedicated to spending time with my family.”

Construction Career Advocacy for the Next Generation
Yang took an intro to construction class with Summit Academy, located in Minneapolis. He also obtained experience doing both union and non-union construction work.

“The six-month course through Summit helped me get my feet wet. It was just the right amount of learning to build my confidence and skills,” Yang said. “As for union work, I am currently in a union and I would recommend it – every shop is different, but I feel like I represent my union every day and they invest equally into my wellness and negotiate high wages for me.”

Yang recommends a career in construction to people who like being active, want variety in their worksite and work experience and want to leave their mark on Minnesota. He said one day he will recommend the trades to his now 5-year-old son as an alternative to college or joining the military.

“I have colleagues that started in the trades when they turned 18. Now, they are in their mid-twenties and early thirties and making close to six figures,” Yang said. “It’s worth exploring your options because this is not a job, it’s a lifelong career.”

Yang understands the struggles many high school seniors face when it comes to choosing if college is right for them or the feeling of nervousness that comes with trying something new.

“I know so many people come from a place like me, where you feel lost and you might have an office job but it’s not fulfilling or you are overworked,” Yang said. “Walking into something new is challenging but that challenge is worth it, and it will teach you about who you are and what you really want out of life.”

Interested in an Apprenticeship as an Electrician

Would you be interested in a rewarding apprenticeship as an electrician, or one of 30-plus other construction career paths? To learn more about careers in Minnesota’s construction industry, visit the Construction Careers Foundation website, or its mobile app, Construction Trades. The mission of the Construction Careers Foundation is to increase the diversity of entrants to the construction trades and foster long-term construction careers.


By Sophia Klein

Minneapolis, MN — Juan Davila, 22, has always had a knack for building, but he hasn’t always been sure how to turn this strength into a lucrative career.

Juan Davila learned about opportunities in the construction trades from his older brother. In his free time, Davila enjoys being active through weight training. PC: CCF

“I’ve always been really good at building things, and I’ve always found a lot of pride in that type of work,” he said. “But no one ever talked about the construction trades as a career option.”

Every professional at Davila’s high school stressed two paths: entering college or joining the military. This led to a lot of confusion for Davila, who knew his potential lay elsewhere.

“I considered going to college, but I couldn’t stop thinking of all the debt that was going to be over my head. I really didn’t feel comfortable with that,” said Davila. “I also thought about joining the military, but I felt like I was giving up my life to do something that I didn’t really feel passionate about. So, I wanted to go a different way.”

Amidst his confusion, Davila’s brother stepped in to tell him about a new path. A cement mason himself, Davila’s brother told him all about his career and connected Davila with the resources to get started.

“I’ve always found a lot of pride in that type of work, so I thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’” said Davila.

Davila is now in his second year as a cement mason apprentice with Cement Masons, Plasterers & Shophands Local 633 and he couldn’t be happier.

“Oh, I love it,” Davila said. “I just did a whole 180. I feel like I’m a way better person than I was before.”

The change Davila feels goes beyond a mental one. His apprenticeship has allowed him to take significant life steps, though he is only in his second year.

“Last year I was living with my parents, and now I’m living by myself in the cities,” he said. “Through the union, I have a savings fund, pension, healthcare, dental, vision…everything. It’s really great.”

Part of Something Big

Davila’s most recent projects are some which are integral to the development of the Twin Cities. This serves to be a huge source of pride for Davila.

“I just finished Dale Street in St. Paul! That was my last project,” he said. “Now I’m on the big light rail project going on all over the city. So pretty much I drive to the cities, and I think, ‘Yep, I’m part of that.’ And it feels really nice to be able to say that.”

Davila cites his union membership as being one of the greatest parts of his apprenticeship.

“It’s amazing.  Everyone’s so involved with each other and works really well together,” he said. “They’ll show you everything you want to learn, and they’ll make you the best version of yourself. You feel like you’re part of something big, and that’s really nice.”

A Day on The Job

As a proponent for variety, and an outdoor-enthusiast, Davila loves that no day as a cement finisher is the same.

“It’s fun! Every day I’m at a whole new destination, working on something completely new,” he said. “You’re actually involved in nature, and you’re not just looking at one spot all day long, 24/7, for months. Sometimes you even see a bunch of deer run by. It’s so nice.”

For Davila, the technical aspects of the job are some of his favorite parts. He loves that, as he masters more skills, he can put his own flair on each project.

“Everyone, especially with finishing concrete, has their own technique in regard to how they want to learn. You pick a little bit of each and you find your own style.  That’s the best part about it: you get to figure out what works best for you,” he said.

The skills Davila learns through his apprenticeship will allow him to grow in his career and achieve his goals outside of work as well.

“I always wanted to have my own contracting business,” said Davila. “But most importantly, I have always wanted to build my own house completely from scratch, just by myself. I feel that would be really fun to do.”

Interested in a Rewarding Career in Construction Through Apprenticeship?

The Construction Careers Foundation helps connect young people like Juan Davila with registered apprenticeships in Minnesota’s building and construction trades. To learn more about apprenticeship opportunities in Minnesota, visit

Those interested in exploring a career in cement finishing can visit to learn more.

Juan also recommends going straight to the union website for more information.

“I would say, go to the LOCAL 633, the cement finishers website. You can message or email them at the address listed, and they will contact you right away. They’ll tell you exactly what to do, how to join properly and how to find a sponsor right away,” Davila said. “You’ll definitely get paid a lot more than you would otherwise, you’ll learn a lot more skills that you can apply outside of work, and it will be more beneficial in the long run.”

St. Paul Plumbing Apprentice Proves Small is Mighty on the Jobsite

Michelle Chute carries the attitude that anything is possible, and she showcases that on the jobsite every day. Through a system of pulleys and levers, Chute, who stands at 4 ft.,11 inches, uses technology to her advantage and moves pipe, tools and metal weighing more than 600 lbs. as a plumbing apprentice with Local 34.

“People always comment on my size,” Chute said. “But when they see my work ethic, knowledge of tools and how I can lead a team, people learn quickly that my small stature doesn’t affect the quality of my work.”

Chute grew up in New York City and moved around the Midwest as a child.

“I got through high school, and I didn’t have guidance on what was out there for me,” Chute said.

Over the years she’s taken on many jobs: working at a gas station, waitressing, working at a floral shop and serving as a personal care assistant.

“Don’t get me wrong, I loved my jobs, but they weren’t careers,” Chute said. “I turned 30 and I began thinking about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At the time, I barely had savings for retirement and my wages and benefits were low so that made it hard to save any money.”

At the recommendation of her husband, Chute began learning about careers in the construction trades.

“My husband is someone I’ve always admired, and he supported me when I was researching apprenticeship and the trades,” Chute said. “With his encouragement,

I passed the entry exams and asked questions to see which trade was right for me. I wanted to learn a skill set that was in-demand, so people would hire me right away.”

Finding a Fit with Local 34

“I never thought about college growing up,” Chute said. “It was too expensive and even after you graduate people carry their debt for years; that was not going to be me.”

To Chute’s surprise, Plumbers Local partners with St. Paul College, located near downtown Saint Paul, so apprentices work for five years to earn journey worker status but also graduate with an associate degree.

“I’ve had a great experience with the program. The hands-on training and site visits are the best parts of learning in the trades,” Chute said. “I am a fourth-year apprentice and next year I will be preparing to take the city and state licensing exams to graduate as a journey worker and be certified in my trade.”

A Day in the life of a Plumber 

Chute’s job as a plumber does not require her to carry a plunger around.

“I’ve never used a plunger at a worksite,” Chute said. “In fact, I’ve worked in schools, fire departments, and refineries. I’ve installed piping for showers or bathrooms, renovated outdated pipes, and installed and connected pipes underground and in ceilings.”

Chute recalled arriving on the first day of her apprenticeship and not knowing any of the tools in the room.

“I was intimidated, but I wasn’t alone,” Chute said. “That’s why it’s called apprenticeship training — you are there to learn.”

Now Chute knows every tool on the worksite. She even picked up some welding skills and works with a variety of metal piping.

“Pipes for water are different from waste pipes,” Chute said. “New technologies are advancing our trade all the time, for instance Victaulic pipes are carbon steel. They can be 8-10 inches in diameter and are often used for wastewater treatment or for fire protection.”

One of recent project that Chute worked on was installing pipes to transport natural gas into the culinary classrooms of Hastings Middle school. She also spent time at the Saint Paul Police training center installing “batteries,” a term used to describe rows of showers or toilets.

“I’ve even had some contractors call on me to come visit a worksite for plumbing jobs in small areas,” Chute said. “I can move just as much weight as the men on site using pulleys and other tools, but they cannot fit into the same spaces I can for detailed installs.”

Advice to Young People Considering the Trades

“For high school graduates, I would recommend apprenticeship as the best next step,” Chute said. “I know some young apprentices who are saving money by living at home and are already building a pension and making more money than their peers. Most trades start at $20+/hour and these young people are graduating as journey workers with enough money saved to buy a home.”

Chute is recommending the trades to her daughter, in hopes that she takes time to explore a career in Minnesota’s construction industry.

“Young people have such an advantage because they can call locals and start out as a summer helper, work in the business office or even just call business managers to tour training centers or learn about the trades,” Chute said. “Although I am biased to say the pipe trades are the best, all trades workers support each other. We understand we need to work together to finish projects in our community.”

Chute adds that apprenticeship is a pathway to a life-long career but that path will look different for everyone.

“Some people want to be on the ground working on installation for their career, others want to become a foreman and run teams and others want to become JATC educators or move to office jobs associated with the union to help run construction sites and recruit teams,” Chute said.  “Your attitude and work ethic determine where you will go in construction. If you arrive positive and ready to learn, you’re going to be successful.”

Union Teams and Union Benefits 

Joining a union also gives members access to benefits such as healthcare, eye care, dentistry, and mental health resources. Additional benefits such as retirement savings in the form of a pension and vacation/holidays are also included.

“It’s not something you think of when growing up — paying for healthcare — because most often you’re strong and healthy,” Chute said. “But you will need and use these benefits later in life. I don’t pay for doctor’s appointments and if I do, my prescription costs are covered by my union insurance.”

“My healthcare is so good my doctors use the same plan,” Chute added. “For eyecare we get free glasses, and they make sure our working glasses fit correctly and eye exams are done on the spot, whenever we need them.”

Chute’s advice to young people learning about workplace benefits: “Be sure to inquire about benefits. You put in your time with a company or union — what are they doing to support you and keep you and your family healthy?”

Interested in an apprenticeship with Local 34? 

Local 34 offers state-of-the-art training through our registered apprenticeship training program. The United Association has worked to develop one of the finest instructor training programs in the world. The association’s instructors are enrolled in, or graduates of, the five-year instructor training program.

These instructors, trained through the UA Instructor Training Program, are directed by the union’s training director, who in turn works at the direction of the J.A.C.

Once an apprentice has completed the five-year program, they join a skilled labor force that is ready to take on all projects that may come.

Local 34 is a hiring hall, which means that contractors can call in and request any number of skilled plumbers for the jobs they have. This gives the contractor confidence that they can meet their manpower requirements and gives Local 34 journeymen and apprentices a steady and hassle-free way to secure good employment.

The Construction Careers Foundation is the leading educational resource for construction apprenticeships in Minnesota. Visit for more information regarding construction trades, apprenticeships, and more.

Looking for guidance, or advice about a construction apprenticeship? Contact Sam Ebute, Trades Navigator at CCF at for personalized support from a professional.