During his senior at Owatonna High School, and the year immediately following high school, while many of his friends went to college or entered military, Arturo Gonzalez felt stuck.
A job working in an office didn’t feel quite right to him because he knew he liked being outside and working with his hands too much, and after he had his son, the military, or anything else that would take him far from home, was out of the question.
In the midst of many difficult decisions and many possible options, Gonzalez couldn’t have known that nine years later his “office” would be hundreds of feet in the air, suspended over the side of a large building, looking down at the city below.
Arturo Gonzalez is a glazier, a professional who installs glass on buildings, from small family owned retail businesses, such as restaurants, to skyscrapers. A proud member of Local 1324, Gonzalez couldn’t imagine doing anything but what he does today.
But that path wasn’t clear immediately following high school.
“After high school, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” says Gonzalez. “A career in construction wasn’t even on my radar.”
Unsure of what to do, Gonzalez took a job at Viracon, a local manufacturer of glass panels that are used on buildings big and small throughout the world.
“I was living at home and was only making $13 an hour,” says Gonzalez, “living paycheck to paycheck, while paying child support.”
After almost four years working at Viracon, Gonzalez decided that enough was enough. He needed a change.
His cousin, a taper who worked with plasterboard and wallboard, encouraged Gonzalez to join his union, Local 1324.
Curious, Gonzalez agreed.
“Originally, I went into the union with the intention of being a taper like my cousin,” says Gonzalez, “but when some of the union members found out that I had worked with glass at Viracon, they suggested that I become a glazier.”
“The guys at the union helped me to apply to the union’s apprenticeship program,” adds Gonzalez. “All of a sudden, my life completely changed.”
Gonzalez is now a third year apprentice in the Local 1324 apprenticeship program, living in Minneapolis. He works full-time under the direction of a journeyman and attends classes twice a month at Local 1324 Union Hall in Little Canada.
To become a journeyman, Gonzalez must work at least 6,000 hours, and complete three years of classroom training while working as a glazier apprentice. The apprenticeship program offered by Local 1324 is registered through the State of Minnesota, which means that upon completing it, Gonzalez will be recognized as a journeyman in all 50 states.
“I have a career now,” says Gonzalez. “I’m learning a skill that’s worthwhile and I’m progressing so that I can become a journeyman.”
“I make $37 an hour,” says Gonzalez. “That is a huge difference from the $13 per hour I was making before. I have my own apartment, I can afford to travel, I own a truck, I can go to the doctor or dentist because I have healthcare, and I’m building a pension with every hour I work, which means I can retire some day.”
Not only has Gonzalez enjoyed his career as a glazier, he says his experience at the union has shaped his job experience too.
“When you join a union, you’re really joining a brotherhood that’s always going to have your back,” says Gonzalez. “The journeymen give me on-the-job training to help me build my confidence as a professional glazier.”
“Through the union, I have a pension, health care, and a dental plan,” says Gonzalez. “It’s a good feeling, knowing that there’s a group of people who have got your back.”
As far as his experience goes, Gonzalez is eager to share what he knows.
“I wish I knew in high school what I know now,” says Gonzalez. “I would have pursued a career in construction right away out of high school.”
“To anyone interested in a career in construction, I would highly encourage it,” says Gonzales, “especially if you love working in the outdoors and you like working with your hands. Just go down to your local union and start talking to people. They’re always open and they will be eager to help you.”
Though it may have taken a few years, Gonzalez has finally found a career that he loves. He gets to experience the thrill and excitement of a construction job and experience the financial stability that comes along with being a trades apprentice.
“I feel lucky to have found this career,” says Gonzalez. “What I love is being able to drive by a building that I’ve worked on and know that I was a part of making it all come together. It gives me a sense of pride that in other jobs I don’t think I would get.”
To learn more about a career as a glazier, click here. It’s one of several dozen careers in construction that you can learn more about at ConstructionCareers.org.