Jessica Benson is not necessarily someone you would think of as a person who would find her love of working in the trades. Before going through BIG STEP, 26-year-old Jessica had earned her degree in Chemistry. Even though many of her family members are in the trades, she had never thought about it for herself. While she doesn’t regret going to college, Jessica realizes she probably won’t use her degree since she found an interest in the “family” business of union trades.
While working in a coffee and bagel shop, Jessica heard about BIG STEP through some of her acquaintances. She attended one of the BIG STEP information sessions and enrolled in the apprentice readiness training class developed and facilitated in partnership with Wall Tech, Carpenter’s Union, and BIG STEP. Wall Tech, Inc. was looking for specific skills for the Bucks Arena project they were working on. They went through the Carpenter’s union and BIG STEP to recruit candidates that wanted to build a career as carpenters and could commit to coming to the apprenticeship program upon completion of the apprenticeship readiness training. Jessica happened to be one of the participants. Once she finished, Wall Tech, Inc. hired her as a new apprentice on the Bucks Arena and she has been there since this summer.
Jessica really appreciated going through the BIG STEP Apprenticeship Readiness training. She never had experience working in the trades, but the training class taught her basics of using different tools she would see on the job and doing specific hands on work helped her once she was placed on the job. After a month with Wall Tech, Inc., Jessica noticed that compared to other apprentices, she had been given a head start because of the BIG STEP training class. The exposure to the types of tools, safety, and specific type of work being done on the arena allowed her to begin her apprenticeship more confident and more skilled.
Although everything was a little overwhelming at first, Jessica loves the work she is doing and has a very supportive team that is willing to teach and help her. Jessica also loves her work because it’s different all the time with different projects she can work on as a Carpenter apprentice. If she had decided to pursue a career in Chemistry, she doesn’t believe she would have had the diversity of experiences she will be getting as a Carpenter.
One thing that has changed for Jessica is that she is more confident and willing to ask for help. She is also willing to try new and different things that she would not have tried before she started this work.
Jessica encourages other women to join the trades. She admits it’s not easy, but it is rewarding. She suspects that many women are told, like she was, that they will have problems in a male dominated field. She has not found this to be a problem. Most everyone she works with is supportive and helpful. Even though she may not be able to lift as much as the men on her crew, she always is able to find willing help when she runs up against those types of obstacles. An active member in her union, Jessica appreciates the sisterhood of women in the trades. Her own union holds regular meetings of just women carpenters. It’s a place where they can ask questions, share stories, and be supportive of each other.
One recommendation Jessica has for both women and men considering the trades is to spend time learning about which trade might fit your personality and skill sets. She also warns that the first year of apprenticeship may be tough, but she encourages everyone to stick it out. Making it past the first year of apprenticeship will pay off with a good union career.