By: Emily Sweeney
Starting a career in construction offers a gateway for a young woman to realize her dream of owning her own business someday.
Gabriella Soika knows what it means to work hard.
As a rising senior at the High School For Recording Arts a public charter school located in Saint Paul’s Midway neighborhood, Soika works more than 20 hours a week through two part-time jobs.
Between balancing two jobs, finishing schoolwork and spending time with her family and friends, Soika added a paid summer construction internship with the Minnesota Trades Academy (MTA) to her already packed schedule.
Soika learned about the internship for selected Twin Cities-area high school students from her Construction Math class teacher, Philip O’Neill, who serves on the staff of the Minnesota Trades Academy.
“I’m trying to give them rudimentary knowledge in my classroom as well as exposure to potential careers that have solid benefits,” O’Neill said. “The Minnesota Trades Academy is a great opportunity for students such as Soika to gain experience in the field before applying for apprenticeships in construction and building trades.”
This is Soika’s first time taking part in a construction-based program outside of school, though O’Neill is still teaching Soika, he just holds the role of site lead instead of instructor.
“So far I like it. Phil and I have a good relationship, so if I don’t understand something, he will help me out one-on-one,” Soika said. “I’ve found that an internship can really benefit you with experience. For teenagers like me, there’s not a lot of paid internships.”
The Minnesota Trades Academy offers two different tracks for high school students to learn about the construction trades through hands-on experience. Track I is a six-week introduction to construction career opportunities. Thosewho participate in Track I can move next summer onto Track II, a nine-week trade specialization course. The completion of both tracks can set a student up to launch a career in the construction industry, beginning with a registered apprenticeship with a Minnesota building trades union for those who are at least 18 years old and have earned a high school diploma or GED.
Creating a Path of Her Own
The majority of Soika’s family members are nurses working in the healthcare field.
“That’s not my cup of tea,” Soika said. “I’d rather find my own path and work with my hands.”
From an early age, Soika recalled being a hands-on learner.
“When I was little, I spent hours building houses with a bunch of little pieces from big boxes of Legos,” Soika said. “I’ve always liked building, it has always been a strong skill for me.”
Soika’s father recently started a job in construction and she has talked with him about his job.
“I’m not sure I’d want to do the labor that he does,” Soika said. “But I like seeing projects from start to finish and how construction includes art and design.”
Soika’s Future Plans
“A career in construction trades is my plan A for right now for when I get out of school,” Soika said. She plans to participate in Track II of the program next summer, where Soika will tour
a variety of trade union apprenticeship training centers to pick a specialty.
“I want to meet more people in the building trades and learn from them,” Soika said. “I also know I want to be in a trade where I can keep learning new skills.”
This year, as a Track I intern, Soika joined the Track II team for a day-long field trip to St. Paul Carpenters Union, Local 322.
“That experience was really interesting to me,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind pursuing an apprenticeship in carpentry
An apprenticeship experience appeals to Soika because the on-the-job training begins right away and she can work with a variety of people.
“It’s a paid apprenticeship, too, which is great,” Soika said. “You start earning good pay, receive full benefits such as healthcare and dental, begin a pension plan and accruing paid time off.”
Just because Soika plans to go into the trades after high school doesn’t mean college is off the table.
“I definitely want to go to college,” Soika said. “But I’m not sure what for yet, that’s why I’m starting in construction, so I can have a good paying job and build my skills in the workforce, while getting my generals out of the way.”
Soika said that most of her friends are considering college or the military after high school but most haven’t considered joining the trades.
“I do feel pressure to go to college. Everyone’s been asking me but it’s hard to tell them what I want because I can’t really answer that myself right now,” Soika said. “College stuff is confusing to me, I don’t really know if I want student loans and some colleges will tell you a number (cost of attending college) but that doesn’t include buying books, supplies and or living on campus.”
An apprenticeship in construction made things simple for Soika, as some trades offer free or reduced college for selected associates programs.
“I think I’d like to go into business and probably start my own company some day,” Soika said. “That way I can do it all, work in the trades, work with roofers and fitters and manage it all.”
Soika’s advice to high school students who may be unsure of their next step:
“Coming out of high school, kids should consider construction,” Soika said. “It doesn’t have to be the perfect job, but there’s something for everyone because there are so many different trades that you can really fit in anywhere.”
Interested in a career in construction?
Students who would like to learn more about careers in Minnesota’s construction industry should visit ConstructionCareers.org. To learn more about the Minnesota Trades Academy and to apply for the program’s internship program for the summer of 2020, click here.
The Minnesota Trades Academy is supported through the generosity of the following organizations: the Construction Careers Foundation, Apprenticeship Coordinators Association of Minnesota (ACAM), City of Minneapolis/STEP UP Program, City of St. Paul Facilities Department, City of St. Paul/Right Track Program, City of St. Paul/HREEO, Kraus-Anderson Construction, M.A. Mortenson Co., McGough Construction Company, the Minnesota State Legislature, Minneapolis and St. Paul Building and Construction Trades, OPUS Foundation, PCL Construction, Ramsey County/U LEAD Program, Ryan Companies, Saint Paul Police Department, St. Paul Public Schools, and White Bear Lake Area Schools.