What do I need to know about apprenticeships?
February 25, 2010 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I am currently applying for apprenticeships in a few fields, including carpentry and cement masonry. What can I expect from the process, and is there anything I can do to increase my chances?

I am looking for apprenticeship opportunities in the Portland, OR area. Carpentry is my top choice, but I have the impression that apprenticeship opportunities are meager at the moment thanks to the current economy, so I'm also applying for to be a cement mason and a sheet metal worker. If those don't work out, I might try other fields, such as plumbing.

Although I have some experience working with masons and carpenters, it's not extensive and it was a long time ago. For the past two years I have been a stay-at-home dad. It's time for me to go back to work, and I am eager to learn a trade. I'm looking for any advice that can help!

What can I do to impress the unions or companies I apply to, and what can I expect from the process? When I submit my application, would a cover letter help? Will an apprenticeship bring me enough steady work to help support my family?
posted by Ortho to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For a time, I worked for an organization that helped industry place interns into trades. Here is my best advice, based on this experience:

1. When showing up in person, dress as you would for any other job opportunity. That means clean, neat clothes, cover up tatoos, clean shoes, etc.

2. If you are called to a job site, bring your hard hat and safety glasses. Wear work boots.

3. Know how to read a tape measure and do the construction math (figure area, volume, etc).

4. Please, do not have the attitude that you are too good to do any type of work. You would not imagine the numbers of people who were not asked to return based on the fact that they thought a job was beneath them.

5. Get your OSHA 10-hour card if you don't already have it. You can get it online at www.careersafeonline.com for around $20 (which is a bargain). Learn crane signalling, too.

6. Construction and trades start early--be on time, even 10 minutes early. Be ready to work.

7. Understanding of basic Spanish words and commands would be a great thing to have. In my area, the construction/trades workforce speaks English and Spanish.

Yes, send a cover letter.

An apprenticeship may certainly provide steady work and/or the type of salary needed to support a family. If you definitely need this, you are probably going to want to stick with the unions and/or a very well established non-union shop in your area. You'll start out as a helper and "earn as you learn." You'll have to go to class and be out in the field.

Best of luck.
posted by FergieBelle at 1:00 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ooh! I am qualified to answer this as I worked for an apprenticeship training committee for years. In terms of the application process, READ AND FOLLOW ALL DIRECTIONS TO A T. We had thousands of applicants each session, with only about 50 spots for new hires, so we narrowed the pool down by who couldn't follow directions. For example, applicants had to send in their application by Certified Mail. Anyone who didn't was automatically DQ'd. The rationale is that if you can't follow our simple directions, we can't trust you to follow directions on the job, where lives are at risk, either.

Nthing the above advice to dress sharply for an interview, and to treat the application/interview process as if you were applying for a corporate job. Yes to a cover letter. Yes to being thoughtful and conscientious in all your correspondence, phone calls, etc. Triple check everything because there are no second chances, and most companies don't accept applications very frequently.

Feel free to memail me with any further questions. Good luck! Apprenticeship is totally cool.
posted by infinityjinx at 6:52 PM on February 25, 2010

Well, this advice might not help you as far as getting into the apprenticeship, but will help you stay on if you are accepted in an apprenticeship program:

Fractions, learn em! There are several ways to do fractional math ( addition, subtraction, division) in your head. Look them up. Learn them! Learn 'em real good like!

Learn to read a tape! I cannot tell you how many times I've had guys, not even just apprentices, but journey men, who had a hard time reading a tape measure.

Check your measurements. You must of heard the old saying... 'measure twice, cut once!' No one likes it when you cut something short. But, really, as a first year apprentice you wont be cutting much.

Arrive early... if you aren't 10 minutes early, you are 10 minutes late!

Dress the part. Make sure to wear steel-toe boots. Or at least ask if you need to wear them. Some jobs will not let you work without them.

Respect power tools! Accidents happen so fast, you have no time to react.

Don't learn bad habits, like cross cutting with a chop saw, not wearing protective wear, taking too long to come back from break or lunch, standing around, asking for too many smoke breaks, etc.

If you absolutely cannot be busy, at least look busy!

Wear any and all safety protection. Don't get into the bad habit of having to be told to do so.

Always have a pencil and notepad. You will be told to do a lot of different stuff, write it down so you don't have to ask again what to do. It'll save you and the foreman or journeyman you are working with a lot of time.

Listen carefully, then ask questions... although some guys you'll find will not like to answer too many questions. Seems ridiculous to me, but some journeymen seem like they are very protective of their 'trade secrets'

Out of all of this I have to say this is the most important advice for apprentices: Bring the right attitude to work. Its seems like a simple concept, but you would be surprised how many guys show up to a job site with a bad attitude.

I would rather have an apprentice with a good attitude than a skilled carpenter/journeyman with a bad attitude. Makes all the difference in the world.

If you have any other questions memail me.

Good luck!

ps.I suppose I should say that I am qualified to offer this advice since I am a job foreman of a union architectural millwork and cabinetry company. I've worked all along the eastern seaboard doing high end millwork installations and have had countless apprentices on my jobs.

Another tip, if you have a detailed, exacting nature, then try to move your way into trim carpentry. The money is better. Plus, it is usually inside away from the elements.
posted by MiggySawdust at 7:59 PM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Right now really might not be the best time for this. I represent construction workers in Cali and right now unemployment is as high as it'sbeen in decades.don't want to burst your bubble but you should be aware of what you're likely facing.
posted by bananafish at 10:59 PM on March 1, 2010

But of all my clients insulators seem to have the best employment right now. Insulation is important to the green economy.
posted by bananafish at 11:03 PM on March 1, 2010

I thought I would give an update in case anyone else reads this thread looking for apprenticeship advice.

I've applied for a few apprenticeships and scored a couple interviews. Although all the answers for this question are really helpful and informative, bananafish's advice is sadly the most relevant. The economy right now is affecting the construction industry especially hard. One union I talked to had 10 unemployed apprentices for whom they needed to find work before they could get to hiring any new applicants. Another said it would be at least a year before they would call me with any work if I was put on their hire list.

Here's how it worked at the unions I applied to (it may vary union to union, of course):
After applying and interviewing with the union, I was ranked and given a score based on my application, interview, and experience. This score places me in a list. When they need a new apprentice, they call the highest ranking person on the list, and then the second highest ranking, and so on.

If another person applies after me, but scores a higher, they get placed above me on the list. So the score you get is very important, and what counts the most is experience. The unions I talked to wanted someone who had some experience in construction/labor. It didn't have to be directly related to the trade, although that helps. They mostly want proof that you can show up for the same job every day, on time, and do the physical labor that is asked of you.

Since jobs in construction are especially hard to get right now, one union guy said even volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity site regularly would be helpful on an application.

Also, the best way to find out information about a specific trade is to call up the union and talk to someone. I prefer to find out things for myself online, and I don't particularly like the telephone, so trust me when I say you should do this. The union rep can give you specific information about the job market and what working the job is like that you cannot find online. I found out more in 20 minute conversations than in an hour researching online.

Thanks again to everyone who answered my question. I didn't choose a "best answer" since they all had great and accurate advice.
posted by Ortho at 12:33 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

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