Latesha Hayes’ career path came full circle this morning.

A fourth-year apprentice with the Carpenters union, Hayes was one of six tradeswomen who led 33 eighth-grade girls from Roseville on a tour of the union’s St. Paul training center. The students put on hard hats and safety glasses, worked with tools of the trade and peppered their tour guides with questions about the craft.

Afterward, Hayes, 31, remembered being at a similar event just six years ago. Her son’s class went on a field trip to JA BizTown, an experiential learning lab for youth that simulates life in a city.

“He got to play the role of a carpenter,” Hayes said. “When I got a look at his benefits and wages, and I had to ask if it was accurate. They told me it was, and I knew I had to look into it.”

On Day 1 of their union apprenticeship, local Carpenters earn $21 per hour with great health and retirement benefits, “even without ever having held a hammer in your hand,” Scott Panek, an assistant training director with the union, told students.

That’s more than Hayes was making as the manager of a local cell phone store. It’s more than her fellow tour guide, first-year apprentice Shetara Round, was making at Victoria’s Secret before she joined the union.

And forget swinging a hammer. Round fully admits she “didn’t even know what the hell” carpentry was back then.

“Somebody on Facebook shared a post and was like, ‘Hey, anyone interested in a career in carpentry?’” Round remembered. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, so they lay carpets and stuff?’”

Cynthia Reif, a first-year apprentice, demonstrates using a sheet-rock router.

Much has changed in the last year, as Round, 34, now works on a job site in East Bethel, building an addition to the local hospital.

“I wish I would have done an event like this when I was their age,” Round said of the middle-school students touring her training center.

The fact is Building Trades unions are doing a lot more outreach events these days – and last week, in particular. Last week was National Apprenticeship Week, and unions locally and nationally are hosting open houses, tours and celebrations inside their training centers.

In recent years, with the construction industry facing a shortage of skilled tradespeople, unions and contractors have boosted their marketing and recruitment efforts. Amanda Phillips, an apprenticeship instructor with the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, said the union is doing outreach events several times a month.

“And I can tell it’s having an impact,” Phillips said. “In their first week of training, apprentices introduce themselves and talk about how they found out about the union. It’s becoming much more prevalent that they mention they came on a tour or know someone who did and told them about it.”

The eighth-grade girls, whose tour of the training center was just one stop during a day of career exploration activities arranged by local contractors, likely won’t make their decision about what to do after high school anytime soon. But if they didn’t know a union apprenticeship was an option before today, they know it now.

“If you’re just riding past a job site, you’re like ‘oh those are construction workers,’” Hayes said “No, there are electricians, laborers, carpenters, pipefitters – and they all come from different unions to put it together.

“It’s basically generalized as a man’s job, but women can do this too. We can do whatever we put our minds to.”

Learn more about apprenticeship opportunities in the Building Trades online at constructioncareers.org.

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