Top Apprentices Motivated By More Than Money

April 25, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco 

Tawana Finley.

New York, NY - Each year, for almost the past 50 years, the finest 4th-year apprentices in the business have showcased their much sought after skills in the NYC District Council of Carpenters Training Center’s Open House/Exhibit. But what might be different now are the diverse kinds of people actually swinging the hammers — and what motivates them to be the best. 

Rudy Mulligan, a 35-year-old former social worker with a degree in political science told LaborPress that being in the daylong competition held on April 12, was the fulfillment of a goal she set for herself after first hearing about the event. 

“I did social work for eight years until I got laid off,” Mulligan said. “And then I thought, ‘Well, if I could do anything in the world what would I do?’ This is what I landed on. I get to work with my hands; I get to be outside; I get to face new challenges often; and I get the satisfaction of seeing my work. Social work was tough because you never really got to see the fruits of your labor. This is really satisfying for that reason.”

Tawana Finley, 29, spent almost 10 years with the Department of Homeland Security before deciding to join the Carpenters union. 

“This is a big change for me, but it’s something that I always wanted to do,” Finley told LaborPress. “I love working with my hands, and I’m a personal trainer, so that kind of helps with this type of physical labor.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t actually track the number of workers changing careers - partly because of the trouble defining what actually constitutes a career change — but other studies have consistently shown that people are changing jobs more often over the course of their working lives then they used to in the past. 

A 2016 LinkedIn survey, for instance, found that the number of companies people worked for five to 10 years after graduating college was on the rise. 

In contrast, both Mulligan and Finley said that since making the switch to the Carpenters union, they expect the building trades will continue to serve their needs long into the future. 

Rudy Mulligan.

“I want to stay engaged,” Mulligan said. “I want to stay creatively interested in what I’m doing. I want to be constantly problem-solving. I just want to be challenged in the work that I do, and I want to feel satisfied with it. So, wherever that leads me, whether I stay in the field as a carpenter or I end up doing organizing, I’m open to the possibilities.”

Finley, who placed sixth in this year’s general carpentry competition, said that her carpentry skills might lead her to becoming a business owner one day. 

“I definitely see longevity in this,” she said. 

Steve McInnis, NYC District Council of Carpenters president, said that with major developent projects at LaGuardia Airport, Hudson Yards and other locations on tap, jobs for skilled carpenters are definitely out there, and that every graduating apprentice is well-prepared to attain that most elusive of goals— a middle-class existence. 

“It’s a solid, well-established program that consistently puts out people who are capable of making a middle-class living every year,” McInnis told LaborPress. 

According to the Department of Labor, there are over 505,000 apprentices nationwide currently earning wages while simultaneously obtaining the skills needed for their chosen professions. 

“It’s a real privilege to be here because I didn’t expect to be in it,” Finley said. 

Said Mulligan, “For me, getting here just proves that I could be among the top with my peers.”

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