By Javier Alcaraz
Being in a trade isn’t just about pounding nails or walking around in mud with 2x4s. It takes real skill to build something in three-dimensional form using only blueprints, materials and tools.
Yet there is a misguided and unfortunate stigma about choosing a trade as a career. People don’t go into a trade because they did something wrong, or because they had no other choice. It’s what I do, and it’s something I’m very proud of – and I would recommend it to anyone just graduating high school.
Going to college is not the only option. To become a carpenter, all you need is a positive attitude; consistent attendance; the ability to communicate clearly and directly; a focus on safety; and skill. Anyone who has these five qualities will make a good carpenter, and will gain respect in their field.
As a union carpenter, you get good benefits, health insurance, an annuity, a pension, and the opportunity to be a good provider for your family. You even get paid to be in the apprenticeship program.
For example, my students in the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters’ four-year Apprentice and Training Program take training classes for one week every 90 days; become certified and trained in a range of carpentry skills; and receive help finding employment during the apprenticeship – all while getting paid to do it.
This program is an investment in yourself: Once you go through it, you have your lifelong career – and no student loans to pay off.
The excellent benefits of being a union carpenter didn’t come out of nowhere; it’s taken centuries of hard work. Union carpenters were a major part of the fight for the eight-hour workday back in the 19th century. This is the standard among all trades that has persisted today, and that is how and when it all started.
Over the years, trade unions have been responsible for ensuring shorter work days, higher wages, and weekends off to spend with family. For a new apprentice, or someone interested in pursuing union carpentry as their career, knowing that a union fought for your rights – and continues to fight for them – can create a great sense of pride.
Javier Alcaraz (Local 363) is a union carpenter and instructor who educates apprentice and journeymen carpenters for Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Apprenticeship and Training Program.