Ask any tradesperson what they’re thankful for, and you’ll often hear this: my career.
Labor Day, a widely celebrated holiday in the United States, holds a rich history that goes beyond just marking the end of summer. It’s more than just a reason for a day off or a reason to fire up the grill — Labor Day is a tribute to the hard work, dedication, and struggles of workers throughout American history.
Constructing the future is more than choosing a trade, learning a craft, and building a career. Today, anyone has the opportunity to have a career in the construction trades with safe working conditions, benefits, and good pay, but that hasn’t always been the case.
In honor of Black History Month, this post is about how the construction trades, especially the union construction trades, grappled with how to bring Black workers into their ranks, integrate them, and ultimately give them a big role and a big voice in the trades.
For many years, the trades excluded Black workers, just like they were excluded from public transport, schools, stores, and other public institutions. Progress and inclusion came slowly for the trades labor unions, pushed forward by changes both within and without.
In Chicago, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 134 was one of the first to support Black electrical workers. In 1919, Samuel Taylor joined the IBEW and in 1922, he founded Taylor Electric, the first Black-owned union electrical company as an IBEW member. The company is still operating today. In 1943, Local 134 also had the first Black business representative and was one of the first local trade unions to include Black members in leadership.
Not every trades group and local union was so supportive. After being excluded, many Black workers refused to give up, and they continued to organize for better pay and better working conditions. On top of that, they also shouldered the burden of fighting for integration and equality. Organizations like the Negro American Labor Council (NALC) were founded to support Black workers. They organized major events like the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that helped push forward the Civil Rights Movement and Black workers’ acceptance into the building trades.
These efforts helped bring us to a better future for all workers. Black tradespeople are an integral part of the building trades today, serving in positions of leadership, reflecting the lasting influence of these early members and organizers. African Americans have risen to the highest ranks in the trades. For example, Kenneth Rigmaiden, the immediate past General President of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), was the first African American elected president of a building trades union. As GP, he fought passionately to advance workers’ rights and immigrant rights and was a leading advocate for racial and economic justice.
Because of our African American tradespeople’s dedication and commitment to building a better and more inclusive tomorrow, all the trades workers now enjoy better pay, safe working conditions, and long-term benefits. During Black History Month we look back and recognize the contributions of our Black members who created these opportunities for all of us.
With AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics becoming more and more sophisticated, many people are starting to wonder about the future of work and worry about their jobs. Will chatbots take over the jobs of customer service agents and receptionists? Will bookkeeping and data entry be handled only by machines? Will we never again interact with a traditional human server or cashier in the near future? Will robots handle all of our manufacturing and logistics?
While AI is starting to significantly impact and replace jobs and job functions in many industries, there are many skills that AI can never replace, and many of those skills are critical for success in the building trades.
Despite advanced AI technology, there’s a lot that AI can’t do, like the parts of jobs that require:
Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
Why is work worth doing such a prize? Over a lifetime, the average person spends roughly 90,000 hours working. In a week, we spend more time at work than we do pursuing hobbies or being with our families. Imagine spending all that time on work that you weren’t passionate about or fulfilled by. Imagine feeling no purpose in the work you do. That would sound more like a life-sentence than a life, and certainly not a prize.
On the other hand, imagine finding a career that means something, not just to you, but to the people around you - a career that serves and betters your community and contributes to the greater good of society. That’s work that has purpose, that you can take pride in.
Construction work has the reputation of being physically demanding and hard on your body. While some jobs in the building trades can be physically intense, there are many that don’t require brute strength or really much strength at all. It’s one of the biggest myths of construction work!
In fact, many people choose a career in the building trades because of the physical aspects. In the trades, work is active and engaging. No sitting in one place behind a desk for countless hours on end. In the trades, you’re up, moving, and working with your hands to build something meaningful and lasting. It is physical work, though, and physical work does require different abilities and skills than that of your average desk job.
You’ve heard about a career in the building trades and know that it’s an exceptional choice, offering great pay, incredible benefits, and almost limitless opportunities. You’re sold (and why wouldn’t you be?).
Thinking of joining the construction trades, and wondering if you have what it takes to be successful?
Being a successful tradesperson requires much more skill than simply being able to swing a hammer or weld a pipe. A master tradesperson has unique talents and meticulously honed skills developed over many years of training and hard work.
Similar to any job, it’s not just the hard skills and know-how that matter in the building trades; the soft skills matter, too. In fact, soft skills might matter more! Many of the most successful tradespeople entered their careers with little to no prior knowledge or experience in their field, but their soft skills are what have made them successful. So, what are those qualities and skills?
There’s nothing more satisfying than a job well done. But what might be even more satisfying is the day off after you finish a hard week’s work. All work and no play is no way to live. We don’t get up and go to work every day for the sake of working, we get up to make a living. A living for ourselves and for our families. And not just a living, a good living.
What is a good living? When summer rolls around, we want time off to go on vacations with our family and friends. We want a nice car or truck that gets us to work and then gets us out on the weekends. We want to play video games with our friends, go fishing, go water skiing, or have the family over for a holiday barbecue. The American dream looks different for everybody, but one thing is the same - PlayStations, fishing rods, water skis, and gas grills aren’t cheap. And time off to enjoy them isn’t always easy to get. Coming up on the 4th of July, it’s important to think about what independence really means.
Independence is the freedom to make what you want of your life, and that takes time and money. For decades, the construction trades have ensured that our workers have those freedoms. The building trades focus on what matters most - giving our craftspeople the kind of life they deserve after a hard day’s work. The world seems to squeeze harder and harder each year, but a tradesperson has great wages, vacation time, pension, and benefits. In the building trades, we don’t make do; we make a living.
Join us! The construction trades have room for every worker in America. Start making more money today without taking out a mountain of student loans that will weigh you down for decades. We’ll teach you what you need to know to start your new career and pay you while you learn. Come enjoy a fulfilling career and the independence that the American dream is built on in the building trades.
Happy Independence Day!
Did you know that 1 in 5 adults in the United States reports living with a mental illness? That’s a staggering number! And, as we all know, mental illness and other struggles don’t magically disappear when we walk out the door for work in the morning, only to return when we clock out. It’s something that we carry with us, wherever we go.
Not only do we carry our struggles with us into our work life, but our work environments and workload can also play a big role in how we respond to those struggles. It can be make or break. That’s why it’s imperative that employers be aware of these issues and actively advocate for and develop a healthy physical and mental work environment.
While working in the construction industry can sometimes be challenging due to tight deadlines and demanding physical conditions, what’s unique about the construction trades is their unwavering commitment to their members’ health and well-being. Not only do the trades provide comprehensive health and wellness benefits, but they are also working hard to break the stigma around mental health while providing countless avenues for union members to get the help they need when they need it.
Many of the building trades have dedicated mental health programs for their members to raise awareness and provide needed resources and services. SMART Union has a Membership Assistance Program, IUPAT has Helping Hand, and the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers have a Member Assistance Program. These are just a few of many! There are also numerous joint initiatives, such as the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. This level of awareness, care, and support of employees’ mental and emotional health is unparalleled across industries.
In the trades, there’s also support and camaraderie between coworkers like nowhere else. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood. When one person is down, it impacts everyone. Tradespeople are notorious for their steadfast support of one another, no matter what struggles are being faced, and are always there to lift each other up.
In life, you will always have difficulties; what’s important is surrounding yourself with people who genuinely care. In the trades, you can be certain you will be cared for physically, mentally, and emotionally and you won’t have to face any challenge alone in work or personal life.
Are you ready to get started with a rewarding career where you know you’ll be supported through all of life’s ups and downs? Consider joining the thousands of men and women pursuing a career in the building trades. Learn how to get started today.