Tag Archives: trading places

Part 4: The Apparatus, My Enemy & Other Choices

My intention for this post is to share my experience, and for it to serve as a reference point/resource for women interested in entering the trades.  This is continued series, so I hope you find some portion of this helpful! See all parts at this link: CLICK HERE - h!

There was absolutely no way to prepare for the aptitude test.  Any Google search lead you to nothing – no study guides, no sample questions.  My friends and I who were scheduled to take the aptitude test were scrambling.  The only leads we had were those already in various trade unions who were able to guide us based on their own aptitude tests years ago.  So, at the risk of having received very dated information, my friends and I explored every avenue possible.

To prepare, some reviewed using a TABE prep book.  Others practiced on an apparatus that I can only describe as the “peg test” which was rumored to be used by the local to measure dexterity.  Because I didn’t have access to a “peg test” apparatus, I secretly wished and hoped that it wouldn’t be on the test.

On test day itself, the aptitude test was just that – it measured each candidate’s potential.  There was a written portion and a practical portion. The version of the test that we took, which was administered by the DOL (which oversees all trade apprenticeship programs in NY), consisted of a number of analogies.  These were very similar to the ones found on the SAT.  Another part covered spatial reasoning, and matched shapes and their mirrored/rotated versions with one another. With both sections, there was no way to complete the timed tests. There were more questions than the short 6-8 minutes would allow.

Then, the dreaded practical portion:  IT WAS THE PEG TEST!  I couldn’t find the exact game/apparatus online, but there were a couple of similar products.  The peg board looks like a hybrid of the two boards pictured below.


It’s definitely more like the “Big-Little Pegboard”, but the size of the pegs are closer to the white ones on the curved board.  The facilitators instructed us on how to maneuver the pieces through the board during a series of 15-second and 30-second rounds.

From my observation, I was doing pretty well in my group.  I was doing so well, that I think the test proxy thought I was cheating. He came over and observed me three times to make sure I didn’t have any tricks up my sleeve, and it affected my last round since he distracted me a bit.

This process began for me in July.  To date, it’s taken about 6 months. I have been unemployed, so I have taken the opportunity to pursue other educational avenues in the meantime. What you have to keep in mind as you apply to trade locals for an apprenticeship is that each union will differ in the amount of time their hiring process takes place.  A number of my friends and I have grown frustrated in the wait as our bills sing for payment.  Some of us have taken part time jobs in the meantime. I just want you to take this as a caveat and plan on how you’ll preoccupy yourself in the meantime.

For highly coveted positions, the wait time may be even years. Some trade unions don’t open up the public application process as frequently, have limited positions, or are in high demand. At times, applicants are expected to put their lives on hold in the wait, which involves a number of interviews and various daytime testing.   (Just to make clear that you will find some difficultly taking time off if you are currently employed and looking to begin an apprenticeship.) Therefore, please expect to interview, job hunt, and keep current on any requirements for the jobs or public benefits you may need. If you’re dead set on having a trade career, then this sacrifice isn’t much.

Which brings us to now…
After the rounds of testing all candidates, the only thing left is to see where I rank so that I determine whether I make the cutoff point. Then, it’d be time for the drug test. As I wait for that letter in the mail, wish me luck, and I’ll update in Part 5!


Part 3: Did I get an interview with my local trade union?

My intention for this post is to share my experience, and for it to serve as a reference point/resource for women interested in entering the trades.  This is continued series, so I hope you find some portion of this helpful! See all parts at this link: CLICK HERE - h!

After waiting for months, I finally received a letter from the local, inviting me to interview. I was pretty excited!

When I decided on plumbing, and started telling my friends, the first thing many of them said was, “OMG, do you really want to work with poop?!?” The answer is always: That is a very limited view of what plumbers actually do.

In the union, the projects are mostly commercial.  In New York City, plumbers are some of the first builders on site, since the work is largely focused in the foundation of the building and every floor. So, sure, there might be some occasional poop encounters, but it’s not the primary scope of the work.

Part of my interest in plumbing is the larger, public health aspect of the work; how it can prevent diseases and affect our consumption of water. Also, I just like water, in the sense that it’s a feeling I’ve developed as a long-time swimmer.

Anyway, the day came when I had to make the trek to Queens.  Coming from the “white collar” world, I was confused as to what attire was interview appropriate.  I opted for a button down, long sleeve shirt, slacks, and some flats.  Judging from those seated next to me while we were waiting for our interviews, the mens’ outfits ranged from 3-piece suits, casual Friday wear, construction pants, and one Dickies long-sleeve coverall. I erred toward safety as there are limitations for women’s wear during trade interviews.

The local scheduled several applicants to show up within the same time block.  About 15 other candidates were waiting with me. Once 1 p.m. began, we were called from the hall into one of the classrooms.  Inside, there were 4 stations set up with 2 interviews at each. Candidates were called in as interviews were completed.

Questions that are important to know and rehearse are:

  • Tell us about yourself?
    Yes, this question also comes up here.  Keep it short and simple. Since I was in transition, I discussed my past work experience, what I’m looking forward to as a tradesperson. The Muse has a great little formula to help you brainstorm.
  • What are your hobbies?
    While this seems of non-importance, it’s just good to have a prepared answer so you’re not stumbling and stammering.   I chose to list off some of my active hobbies – like hiking, and those that showed further interest in the trade, like light carpentry.
  • What are the tasks of this particular trade?
    A good resource would be to look up the knowledge/skills/abilities  — KSAs —- of the position so that you can refer back.  Since you’re looking at an apprenticeship, the interviewer understands that many are coming into the profession very green.
  • What experience do you have that is applicable to this trade?
    Since I was coming from a series of desk jobs, I mentioned having great spatial logic,  being fit for heavy lifting, familiarity with tools, an ability to stand for extended periods of time , and my trade school pre-training.
  • What do you expect from this position? /What is your goal in the next 5 years?
    THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS THIS:  to be a Journey level trades person. The apprenticeship is no joke.  it is usually 3 to 5 years of coursework and on-the-job training.  They are looking for the long haul with you.
  • Prepared to do some mental math!
    I was asked a quick word problem.  Something about the number and lengths pipe a hypothetical team could carry in X amount of time.  The problem was fairly simple, so just listen carefully, and apply some 4th grade math.  You’ll be fine.

The entire conversation lasted around 5 to 7 minutes. The 2 men who interviewed me took notes on their form in my folder the whole time. We made slight small talk,  and  I shook the hands of both of my interviewers while thanking them for their time. They wished me luck, and the process was fine and comfortable.

After my other friends finished their interviews, we all walked out together.  The staffperson up front scheduled us for  our aptitude tests, and we knew that we were to return in a month as we headed to the train.

Which brings us to now…
I have no clue how to prepare for this aptitude test, but wish me luck anyway.  I’ll update in Part 4!


Part 2: How I prepared to enter the trades

My intention for this post is to share my experience, and for it to serve as a reference point/resource for women interested in entering the trades.  This is continued series, so I hope you find some portion of this helpful! See all parts at this link: CLICK HERE - h!

Many of the women in my program arrived at this training program for the same reason: they couldn’t find good jobs anywhere. Many were unemployed, or just working a series of dead-end jobs, and were looking for ways to disrupt that cycle of poverty.  This is why I wanted to head into the trades.

Research I did, and how I started:

First stop was, of course, the internet. I was able to find a program in the NYC area that focused on getting women into trade careers, and they offered a free orientation course for apprenticeships. Their training was six weeks long.

Second, I applied, interviewed, and was accepted into the trade orientation program for women. Our days consisted mostly of learning more about the various trades and associations in the area, simulating a construction site, carrying heavy loads (45-65 lbs. of various types of equipment up flights of stairs, and back), doing woodworking and electricity workshops, and learning more about green (environment-focused) trades. You have to be pretty quick at math, many of us learned, since you don’t have that much time to do complicated calculations when you’re busy at a site.

During this time, we also learned about various issues we’d face as women in a predominantly male industry. We learned about our rights at work, and how to address sexual harassment , should it arise. Other helpful workshops were about job attitudes, new trends in the trades (mostly headed toward green-minded technology), and refresher classes in math.

Third, I started speaking to the many lecturers we had. These women were also graduates of the program, and many were now journey-level in their careers. Many were involved in various associations which supported other women in the trades, usually referred to as a sisterhood. One of our mentors was a with a carpenters union for the last decade, so asking her about her profession really informed how I chose for which trade to apply.

I later found out that carpentry serves as the basis for the majority of trades, as much of what any tradesperson does is carpentry using different mediums.  This was helpful to know, and made me more open to investigating other trades, as well.

Fourth, I completed the program, and placed fairly high on my various tests.  This was sort of the easiest part for me, since I’m pretty much a nerd. What I found more challenging were some basic principles of building: sawing in a straight line, using a plane with a steady hand, not splitting the wood while you’re hammering in a nail, etc.

The other women in my cohort were also a pretty great bunch, so I really appreciated my learning experience more while with them.

At this point, I was also wrestling between the possibilities of applying to apprenticeships with the carpenters, electricians, or plumbers. I learned that for electricians and plumbers,  the curriculum for apprenticeship was advanced in that it combined the 5-year apprenticeship trainings with a college degree. Because I was deathly scared of getting “blasted” by electricity, and that the carpenters unions were not opening up soon, I decided that I would try for the plumbing apprenticeship.

Fifth, we checked the DOL’s website a lot.  Typically, if you are not coming from some kind of trade-prep training, this is the step where you would start.

In the state of New York, the Department of Labor runs ALL trade apprenticeship programs. This site lists all the days that certain unions are publicly recruiting. Depending on the trade, a certain number of applications would be handed out either on a specific date, or a range of dates. The number of applications is based on how many people the union or association can hire at that given time. Some applications are highly coveted, since their trades are high paying, and there are a limited number of positions.

One example of this is for the position of operating mechanic, whose main responsibility is operating large, heavy machinery like cranes and bulldozers on a worksite. Because there are only 14 cranes in NYC (this is a fact, btw, not an exaggeration), they only open up for recruitment every two years, and look to fill 1 or 2 positions. This is in stark contrast with a local carpenter’s union which opens up recruitment annually, and hires up to 200 new apprentices.

Looking over this boring ass website was more interesting to do with the other women in my program. The mutual support was very helpful and motivating for us all, and we went through these steps together. We were all interested in different kinds of work, but many of us made it a point to tag along in groups for application days.

Sixth, I got a union application. Right around the time that I completed my training program, the local plumbers union was opening up for public recruitment.

The plumbers were last open 8 months ago, were handing out 600 applications, but only hiring 100 apprentices.  The applications were going to be handed out on a Monday, but we were tipped to be there earlier, and we were strongly urged to even sleep on the line as early as the Friday prior. Standing “on the line” for your application is almost a point of pride for any tradesperson, serving as a symbol of earned rank through hard work and discipline.

Coming from a land of submitting my résumé through LinkedIn, lining up for an application was a completely foreign concept to me. But as the sharp women from my cohort stated: if people have the time to line up for days just for the latest iPhone or some sneakers, why can’t they line up for a job? True. A number of us in my cohort were also interested in the plumbing apprenticeship, so we were able to schedule who’d be present on the line on each day fairly easily.

Because we were in the middle of summer, the conditions on the line were not harsh. Many brought lawn chairs, coolers, and grills as if this were one big tailgate. I even got a free steak and some hot dogs from the guys who were grilling two cars down.  Some people parked nearby and slept in their car, others slept on chairs in the line as it wrapped around for blocks. We used a local McDonalds for its rest room. This lasted for three days for most, luckily my friends and I each rotated our places in line. I slept on the line for one night, and I got a spider bite – luck of the draw!

Seventh, I submitted my application. When Monday arrived, we were given a slip with a number on it. And then, we proceeded inside the union hall to pick up the full application.  Seen:


And yes, that is a blue tarp, because on the last day, the rains fell upon us without mercy. (If you look even closer, you’ll also see the McDonald’s where I brushed my teeth.) Having secured my place in the 300s, I felt awful for the poor person who was #601 on line. They were not going to receive an application.

Once inside, our ticket number was married with our application form (I’ve blurred it here, since my application is still being processed), and we were instructed to return it completed in one month. The application was very straightforward (with all needed info) and pretty easy to fill out, and included the following:

  1. some basic contact information,
  2. job history stuff,
  3. a checkmark that stated you are able to pass a drug test (this is where I hear so many people DO NOT make the cut, so please ensure that you are free of any substances when eventually taking your drug test.)
  4. the results of my TABE test (Test of Adult Basic Education, a mandatory standardized test which I took at the assigned facility for free. As of this writing, the needed score to pass for this was a 10 out of a 12.9 scale),
  5. and your sealed high school transcripts.

I made sure to ask to whom to address and send the transcripts, just in case.

Then, I returned one month later to submit. There was only a 4 day period to do this, and there were specific time blocks during the day that applications were accepted. I arrived early anyway on submission day, and I received a receipt of confirmation. Because my high school mailed my transcripts directly to them, I called a week before to make sure that my documents were received. As an added precaution, I also attached a note within my application explaining that I had called on such-and-such date, and Mr.this-and-that confirmed that the union had my sealed transcripts.

Which brings us to now…
I’m extremely grateful to my cohort for their support, and willingness to make this work for all of us! I am now waiting to hear back from the union for an interview date, and then take an aptitude test. Those would be the last two steps in this process, and I would either be accepted or rejected as a new apprentice. As of this writing, I am not in the trades, and who knows if I’ll be in a position to accept if I get an offer? 
Wish me luck anyway, and I’ll update in Part 3!


Part 1: The appeal of being a tradesperson.

My intention for this post is to share my experience, and for it to serve as a reference point/resource for women interested in entering the trades.  This is continued series, so I hope you find some portion of this helpful! See all parts at this link: CLICK HERE - h!

There came a point when I became absolutely frustrated with my options while I was on the job hunt. I’ve had a number of terrible work experiences, and the idea of going back to some position just waiting to be exploited gave me a migraine.

I started by being very honest with myself on the types of work I did and didn’t want to do; made a list. One of the things I hate the most is maintaining email communication, especially as a main component of my work. The idea of sitting at a desk, writing line by line, to a client who was just complaining was just not an experience I wanted to relive. I wanted to never ever send a work-related email again. There was also the element of my labor that focused too much on spreadsheets and meetings. Would I be able to proudly say on my deathbed that my life’s work boiled down to two turning points:  that one AMAZING spreadsheet I made in 2017, or the time I facilitated a conference call with some Canadian buyers? Nope.

There are very few positions in the U.S.’  service economy (the sector where the majority of jobs lie now that U.S. manufacturing has either been outsourced to prisons or offshored to other countries) which allow for non-email tasking. Knowing that, and how the average person has about 7 career changes in a lifetime,  birthed my personal investigation into the trades.

The trades are a number of different jobs within the construction industry.  These positions are skilled, and require a number of years of formal education and training (depending on the position.) Once you apply to be in a trade job and are accepted, you begin your apprenticeship.The apprenticeship is hosted by a union or trade association, which usually has some kind of national or international affiliation, so they are identified by their district or regional number (e.g. “Local 61″.) Upon completing the apprenticeship, via on-the-job training and formal classes at trade schools, you are then considered a “Journey” level worker, which is also referred to as the mechanic. The years of your apprenticeship also vary based on the trade, and pay increases with experience. Some common trade jobs are electricians, plumbers, carpenters, iron workers, latherers, painters, etc.

A funny observation in this process was when I shared this desire to switch careers, people were a bit shocked. There was definitely some confusion stemming from my family/friends who have white-collar/professional backgrounds. What they know of me, well, my work history doesn’t exactly scream “blue collar.” So, I cautiously went into this, knew that I needed a lot of guidance, and really had to articulate why I was interested in exploring the trades.

My secret: the life of a carpenter has always appealed to me. (Let’s skip the Jesus comparisons, yes?) There is something terribly practical about the craft, that I felt immediately drawn to its pursuit. I would have a skill that I could take with me anywhere I want, and I could literally build anything. I also talked a lot about the coming zombie apocalypse, and how I would be really useful in my new survivor group as a carpenter. By having a practical skill, I would be less likely to get voted out/double crossed by my new stranger-friends.  With the current job skill set I had, I just felt like there wasn’t much to do outside of emails, meetings, and spreadsheets. That’s not how I wanted to participate in the workforce.

Furthermore, I wanted to work using my hands while I was still able-bodied. There was also something very appealing about getting a good day’s work in, and earning your exhaustion. (Yes, this is the one place where I will readily admit that I drank the Kool-Aid of American “bootstrap” mentality.)  There were also the wages, benefits, and stability: consistent employment and pay during one’s apprenticeship was not a shabby deal for someone struggling with chronic underemployment.

After being pretty decisive, I knew I had a ton of  homework to do so that I could dive into the trades.

Which brings us to now…
How did I start this process coming from a string of desk jobs? With limited resources,  check out how I prepared to enter the trades  in Part 2!