A love for HGTV inspires Middle School Teacher to become a Plumbing Apprentice

Carly Carey loves learning, and her enjoyment of gathering and sharing knowledge made teaching a natural career fit. As a middle school English and Social Studies teacher for more than 11 years, when the pandemic started Carey optimistically considered alternative career paths.

“I’ve always loved HGTV – ‘This Old House’ specifically, it’s probably how they investigate problems and at the end of the day they step back and see their work,” Carey said. “My boyfriend looked over at me one day and said, ‘You could do all of this, why not start learning about what jobs are out there.’”

During the first months of the pandemic, Carey looked up Minnesota’s trade unions and shops and plumbing piqued her interest.

Carey is employed by Erik Nelson Plumbing LLC. She is in her first of four years of apprenticeship. PC: Carey

“It’s a lot of critical thinking, and finding creative solutions to problems,” Carey said. “I’ve always been curious about how things work, and I enjoy moving around when I work – previously that looked like an interactive classroom, now it’s assessing barriers in small spaces and planning how I will finish the install.”

Personal Values and Career Choices Align in Construction

“When I had my apprenticeship interview, the first things that stood out to me were the demand for plumbers and community values,” Carey said. “One of my personal values is service and every day I serve the Twin Cities communities around me; that’s incredibly fulfilling work and it makes me excited to go to my job.”

Carey told her family about her career switch and was met with positive reactions and lots of questions about the apprenticeship process.

“Of course, there are misperceptions about working in construction – it being dirty or just lots of men,” Carey said. “That’s really not the case. I have teammates of all ages and technology that makes my job a lot easier.”

Another misconception about the construction trades is that it’s lots of hard physical labor, Carey added.

“First, physical labor is trade dependent and second, I have been active my whole life, whether it was soccer in high school or lacrosse throughout college,” Carey said. “Prior to starting my apprenticeship, I coached two high school lacrosse programs. Now my apprenticeship continues to keep me active and in shape.”

Women are the New Face of Minnesota’s Construction Industry

“Absolutely, women will be at the forefront of Minnesota’s construction industry,” Carey said. “Construction is empowering, it’s creative and rewarding. It’s a career path women have succeeded in and will continue to do great things in; especially as more young women join the trades.”

One of Carey’s personal goals is to share her story about her career transition and apprenticeship experience with more women, especially young women graduating high school who may be doubting what college can offer them.

“When I was in school, no one ever told me about the trades – it was always a push to go to college, even if you didn’t know what you were going to study,” Carey said. “That’s such a bad mentality and consequently our young people suffer by going into great amounts of personal student loan debt, working multiple jobs and often sacrificing their mental health for a degree that does not guarantee a job.”

Carly Carey

Follow Carey’s journey as a plumbing apprentice on Instagram @theplumbher. PC: Carey

Carey added, “College does not make sense for everybody. It takes some self-reflection to figure out what kind of life or career you want and that’s really hard and a lot to ask of a young person, so the least we can do as educators is present all the career options to our young people and give them the best resources to succeed.”

A Successful Career in the Trades looks like …

“I went from being in charge of a classroom and students and knowing exactly what I was doing all the time to sometimes having to take a step back at work and learn something new,” Carey said. “That’s the most fulfilling part of my job and also the most challenging part.”

In the next four years of her apprenticeship, Carey looks forward to getting paid to learn new skills, receiving more on-the-job training at worksites around the Twin Cities and eventually becoming a master plumber.

“It’s easy to get down on yourself when you are in the midst of learning so much new information at once,” Carey said. “But I already know this career path will pay off – not just financially, but the skills I’ve learned in my first year alone – looking back I’m amazed at everything that’s second nature to me now, you would never know that a year ago I didn’t know the names of half of these tools.”

Carey also plans to share her skills and knowledge with young women and other underrepresented groups in the construction trades.

“Success to me is having the skills and knowledge to be a master at my work and then be able to teach and mentor other women and minority members in the trades,” Carey said. “I love my work. I love building relationships within my union and within my community. Taking time to reflect on my own interests and career aspirations has changed my life for the better; I hope other women do the same.”

For more information on careers in construction or the plumbing trades, visit ConstructionCareers.org. View more stories like Carey’s on our Success Stories page.