By: Amanda Pedersen
Tile setters are skilled craft workers and a vital part in the construction of any building. They are in charge of the installation of hard tile, marble, wood tiles, walls, and a variety of different surfaces.
Monticello resident, Sharlo Strickler, 38, has tile setting in her blood.
“My mom and dad were tile setters in California — around 50 years ago,” Sharlo said. “Both my brothers have done it, and my 18-year-old nephew also just started.”
After working as a housekeeper and a machine operator, Sharlo wanted more.
“I was looking for a change and I wanted to make more money,” recalled Sharlo. “I was bored standing at a machine all day, I wanted to do something that was bigger.”
Sharlo’s brother, who is a foreman in tile setting, recommended that she try tile setting as a new career.
“Although I was nervous at the start, I decided to give tile setting a try,” Sharlo said. “And I’m so happy I did because now I can say that I love my career!”
Average Day of a Union Tile Setter Apprentice
Sharlo is currently in her second year of her three-year apprenticeship through the BAC Local 1 Minnesota/North Dakota/ South Dakota Tilelayers and Bricklayers Union.
Her apprenticeship consists of working a full 40-hour work week, while getting paid. Every other week, she meets from 1 to 7 p.m. to obtain classroom training at the BAC’s tile setting training center.
“We get summers off of school which is nice, and it’s satisfying seeing your classroom education paying off on the job,” Sharlo said.
The tile setting apprenticeship that Sharlo is in requires school for the first two years. During the third year, apprentices work on perfecting their craft as a tile setter.
Sharlo works and learns from a journey-level tile setter to perfect the process of tile setting.
“We walk into a building and start to prep for tile,” said Sharlo. “When the prepping is done, we do our job. It was intimidating at first, but over time it has become second nature for me.”
The apprentices also enjoy pay raises throughout the course of their apprenticeship as they gain more experience and skills.
“The last year during the apprenticeship, you work to get your journey card,” said Sharlo. “After you achieve journeyperson status, you can start doing jobs on your own and working towards becoming a foreman.”
Sharlo hopes to achieve foreman status one day to join her brother and dad who are also tile setting foremen.
A strong career choice for strong women. Watch Sharlo Strickler describe her construction experience.
Benefits of the Union
Along with getting paid to learn on the job, Sharlo also enjoys the benefits that come along with being a Local 1 union member, including health and retirement benefits.
“I love being a union member. People always have your back. It truly is a brotherhood/sisterhood,” Sharlo said. “We have weekly safety meetings, and it’s a nice way to network with other trades. You cannot go wrong with being in a union.”
Being a union tile setter also helps Sharlo provide for her three kids.
“My kids like my career as a tile setter. We are now able to take more vacations and camp more,” Sharlo said. “As a single mom, it’s nice being able to provide for my kids. With the extra income, I can add to their savings account which is something I didn’t think I would be able to do.”
Advice for for Future Tile Setters
Prior to starting her career as a tile setter, Sharlo thought of the construction trades as a man’s world. But now that she’s in it, she can see that tile setting and other construction trades are for everyone.
“I wish I had started tile setting right out of high school, I bother my brother for not telling me about it sooner,” Sharlo said. “If you’re a dedicated hard worker, it’ll be worth it.”
Through the financial benefits of being a union tile setter, Sharlo now has plans for her future.
“When my kids are out of the house, I now have a retirement fund and savings account,” Sharlo said. “I now can plan on traveling and focusing on myself, which I couldn’t have done before.”
Sharlo is proud of her work as a tile setter; she loves to leave a work site knowing that she made it better.
“It’s satisfying to show my kids what I’ve done,” Sharlo said. “I can now point at a building and say I worked on it, which is a pretty cool feeling!”
Sharlo advises anyone who is looking for a new career to try tile setting.
“I was scared to make the jump, but I’m so happy I did,” Sharlo said. “If you don’t try something, you’ll never know if you like it.”
Interested in a career in construction? Visit https://constructioncareers.org/careers/.