Op-Ed: How Union Apprenticeships Changed My Life

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By: Donna Burke, union Dockbuilder

Joining the New York City District Council of Carpenters changed my life in ways I never thought possible. With the union’s apprenticeship graduation quickly approaching, I can’t help but reflect on the opportunities that my own apprenticeship experience has afforded me. For the first time in my life, I have a sense of pride in what I do, and on top of that, I’m financially secure and able to plan for the future.

Growing up, I had never considered going into the trades because it had never been presented to me as an option. I finally reached a point of extreme dissatisfaction in my office job and knew I needed to make a change. I felt hopeless and wished I could join a training program to unlock a new skillset and career – then I realized I could do exactly that through union apprenticeships.

I started looking into the trades and discovered Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), an apprenticeship program that prepares and places women in careers in skilled construction. I decided to go to one of their information sessions and was so inspired by the women there that I enrolled in the pre-apprenticeship program on the spot. The program not only thoroughly prepared me for a career in construction, but it also helped me find my true passion within the trades and land my place as a Dockbuilder at the NYC Carpenters Union in Local 1556.

Being in the Carpenters Union has given me a stable job with benefits and financial security. Now, I’m proud to say that I’m about to become a homeowner, something I never thought was possible. It’s the American Dream, really. What’s more, I’ve found a career that I feel truly fulfilled by and am uplifted by my union family every step of the way.

I want every New Yorker, especially women, to know that they can do this, too. The New York City District Council of Carpenters holds recruitments at their Training Center on the first Wednesday of each month for the next generation of apprentices. They also recruit a percentage of graduates from NEW each year to ensure that women have access to good-paying union jobs in the trades. As a woman in the union, I feel consistently supported by my union and cherish the camaraderie of my fellow women carpenters that I’ve met through Sisters in the Brotherhood.

Being part of the union motivates me to achieve more in my career, with everyone in the union constantly striving towards lifelong learning to ensure we remain the most highly skilled tradespeople in the city. I’ve recently completed my American Welding Society certificate, which was a pretty rigorous process, but it definitely gives me a competitive edge in the industry. I like to learn and I know that my education is far from over. As I continue to sharpen my skills, I’ve already set my sights on my next goal – earning my Department of Transportation certification, which will allow me to weld on all NYSDOT projects I’m so excited that this is just the beginning of a life-long career that will not only help me build a stable future but will also foster fulfillment and challenge me to do my best.

Congratulations to all the union apprentices graduating this month. Be proud of what you have achieved, the community you have gained, and the opportunities that it will afford you – and remember to never stop learning.