By: Amanda Pedersen
Megan Ringwelski’s three young daughters have a strong role model, their mother.
“My girls think I’m a firefighter,” said Ringwelski, 37, “I’ll take it.”
Although she does put out fires, she is technically not a firefighter. Instead, she is a sprinkler fitter apprentice through the Sprinkler Fitters Local 417 union. Ringwelski is currently in her fourth year, out of five, of her sprinkler fitter apprenticeship.
As most know, sprinkler fitters are absolutely necessary in protecting us all — where we work, shop, and if we live in an apartment or condo, where we sleep.
Sprinkler fitters, install sprinkler fire protection systems and they are a critical part of the construction of any building.
Ringwelski’s Journey to Apprenticeship
When Ringwelski graduated from high school, she felt the need to attend college.
“I think my mom pushed me to attend college because she never had the chance,” Ringwelski recalled. “I attended for two years to find out interior design wasn’t for me.”
After attending college, Ringwelski did accounting and bookkeeping for a few years but constantly felt bored and underpaid.
“I was so bored, underpaid, and working way too many hours. It was time for a new journey that would help support my family,” Ringwelski said.
Ringwelski knew about the sprinkler fitting trade through her husband’s cousin, who is currently a sprinkler fitter. So, she decided to start the application process.
“If you’re interested, do it,” Ringwelski suggested. “Even if you’re not interested, you should at least try it.”
Shortly after taking the entrance exam, she found out she passed the test and the interview stage. It was time for her apprenticeship as a sprinkler fitter to begin.
The Life of a Union Sprinkler Fitter
Ringwelski does her apprenticeship through the Sprinkler Fitters Local 417 union based in the Twin Cities.
“All the members of the union are extremely knowledgeable, and ready to help,” Ringwelski said. “They’re always there for you and willing to teach you everything they know.”
Through her apprenticeship, she is trained by certified instructors who are experts in sprinkler fitting.
“The first day was intimidating. I had no clue what I was doing,” Ringwelski said. “But, everyone on that first day was very patient and courteous, they were willing to show me the ropes.”
Don’t pay to learn. Get paid to learn. Listen to Megan Ringwelski’s construction experience.
Being a woman in the construction, Ringwelski enjoys the support from her fellow union workers.
“If you’re a woman and you’re worried about the men, don’t be. They’re there to help you,” Ringwelski said. “They want more women in the trades too.”
Along with working a normal work week, apprentices attend class at the union’s training center for additional instruction one to two times a week in the evenings.
“You earn as you learn,” Ringwelski said. “So you go to work, then school in the evening once or twice a week to learn additional skills, which you can put to work the next day.”
Being in a union, apprentices receive a significant amount of benefits to support themselves and their family.
“I have a pension, a supplemental retirement plan, a savings account, and health insurance,” Ringwelski said. “Through my apprenticeship as a sprinkler fitter, I can single handedly provide for my husband and three girls.”
Through her apprenticeship, Ringwelski is never bored. Some of the things she enjoys most about her new career are the ability to create fire safe environments for people and being able to move constantly, from job site to job site.
“There are so many awesome places you get to see that you may not ever see unless you’re working on them,” she said. “We work on everything–really cool old buildings, warehouses, McDonald’s restaurants, coffee shops, old homes, you name it.”
Ringwelski’s favorite job site?
“My favorite job site thus far was the Palace Theater in downtown St. Paul,” Ringwelski said. “The work was very intricate and it was very rewarding when we finished.”
At the end of her apprenticeship, Ringwelski will need to pass a licensing exam to become a journeyperson. But, because of her training, she is confident she will pass.
Ringwelski will then earn the journeyperson title, with definite opportunity to become a foreman and enjoy her new career until retirement.
“The average retirement age of a sprinkler fitter is 55 to 58 years old,” Ringwelski said. “In the future, my husband and I want to sell the house, buy an RV and travel. With a career as a sprinkler fitter, I am able to plan on a future like that.”
Interested with a Rewarding Career Through Apprenticeship?
Ringwelski advises high school students to try out any trade when exploring career paths.
“Be open to anything, regardless of what someone else tells you,” Ringwelski said. “Do something that you can be proud of, you’ll be surprised at what you can do!”
Interested in starting a career in the construction trades as an apprentice? Visit https://constructioncareers.org/apprenticeship/.