Confusion After College Leads to Career as a Laborer

By: Amanda Pedersen

Originally from Minneapolis, Mariah Lenon graduated from Thomas Edison High School and felt that her immediate next step in life was to attend college.

“I felt a lot of pressure from my family, coaches, and teachers to go straight into college right after high school because it was a way to become more financially stable. And it was what most people I graduated with were doing,” Lenon said.

After graduating from Minneapolis Community & Technical College, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with a degree in law enforcement, Lenon, like many other young adults, was unclear of what to do next.

After applying to hundreds of jobs and receiving word back that she needed more experience, Lenon became frustrated with the process.

“It was hard for me,” Lenon said. “It gets difficult to hear that in order to gain experience, I needed experience – like that was the whole reason I applied to so many jobs in the first place, I wanted some place I could get my foot in the door and start working.”

Eventually Lenon decided not to go into law enforcement. Instead she worked in retail management but, after a few years, no longer felt valued by her employer.

“I was sick of being overworked and underpaid,” Lenon said.

Lenon had heard of a career as a union laborer through her best friend who had already been in the trade for 12 years.

“She was always trying to convince me to join her as a union laborer,” said Lenon. “One day, I was so sick of my job in retail, I decided that I was ready to take her advice. I applied to the union and was hired almost immediately and started my apprenticeship as a laborer.”

Lenon, 28, is currently in her second year, out of three, of her apprenticeship as a laborer through the LIUNA Local 563 union.

Introduction to an Apprenticeship as a Union Laborer
Laborers are the backbone of the construction industry, and they work in pretty much every area of construction.

Laborers work on buildings, highways and roads, environmental remediation, mainline pipelines, distribution, landscaping and commercial cleaning, and so much more.

Lenon, currently lives in Fridley and she is enjoying the variety of work that a union laborer apprentice does on a day-to-day basis.

“I’m a jack of all trades,” said Lenon. “We do a little bit of everything. Everyday on the job is different.”

Through her apprenticeship through the Local 563 union, she works a 40-hour week and takes classes at the union training center.

“Some of the time is spent in the classroom, but most of the time is spent in the training center after class trying out what you learned,” Lenon said.


Job sites are big. Dream bigger. Listen to Mariah Lenon’s construction experience.

Along with making a rewarding salary, apprentices also receive healthcare insurance and a pension.

“Through my apprenticeship as a union laborer, I’m able to start paying off my student debt, save for a house, and travel,” said Lenon. “I can now do stuff I was unable to do in my old job.”

Along with the great pay and benefits, working as a union laborer also brings a certain level of comradery among the work crew. But being a female in a male dominant industry is not something that Lenon worries much about.

“It’s a rewarding feeling at the end of the day to complete the same task a man did,” Lenon said. “I wake up every morning looking forward to seeing the people we work with; we have a really great crew.”

Looking Forward to the Future
Through her apprenticeship as a union laborer, Lenon is financially stable and able to plan for her and her son’s future.

“I can now give my son the stable life that he deserves,” Lenon said. “I don’t have to look at my checking account and worry about how I’m going to pay for stuff.”

After completing her apprenticeship, 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 tell the guys what to do as a woman,” Lenon said. “And hopefully pave the way for other women thinking of going into a trade.”

Advice for the Future Generation
Lenon’s career as a laborer has provided her with many new opportunities and helped her get to know her childhood community of Minneapolis. She is currently working on a public service building in downtown Minneapolis.

“I grew up in Minneapolis and remember when the space was used for a parking garage,” Lenon said. “It’s cool to be part of constructing the future of the city you live in.”

The only regret Lenon has about her apprenticeship as a union laborer is not starting sooner.

“If I could give advice to young adults thinking about not going into college right away is to try out a trade in construction,” said Lenon. “I wish someone told me about the trade after I graduated high school. Also, don’t let someone determine your future because it’s what they think is best.”

Being an apprentice as a union laborer has changed Lenon’s life for the better.

Interested in more information about a rewarding career in construction through apprenticeship?

Visit https://constructioncareers.org/apprenticeship/ to explore more careers in the construction industry.