You may be a high school student looking to gain experience, a single mom looking for fulfilment while you provide for your family, or a seasoned professional looking for a new job pace which uses skills you’re passionate about. Working as a skilled craftsperson is a growing field and available to women and men of any education level. Here you will find a brief description of each trade.

 

Boilermakers

Boilermakers work in a wide range of trades from blacksmiths to cement workers. Being a boilermaker does not necessarily mean you will be building boilers – ships, stoves, and cement kilns all benefit from the expertise of boilermakers. Boilermakers contribute to the comfort of homes through power and water, our nation’s defenses, and space exploration.

Often, boilermakers start with gaining knowledge in welding will grow their expertise through technical school, apprenticeship training, and on-the-job training. Boilermaker work may require traveling and spending long stretches of time away from home. It is a physical and sometimes dangerous job where you will need strength, coordination, and manual dexterity.
Boilermakers may work in these industries:

  • Industrial construction, repair, and maintenance
  • Shipbuilding and marine repair
  • Cement kilns
  • Other related industries

What you will learn and work on as a boilermaker:

  • Drafting
  • Read blueprints to determine location, position, and dimension of parts
  • Boiler technology to know how to not only build but upgrade and maintain the boilers
  • Use hand and power tools, including welding equipment and gas torches
  • Rigging
  • Assemble boiler tanks — at times using automatic or robot welders
  • Install pre-made boilers or assemble pre-manufactured parts
  • Inspect and run tests on boiler systems to find leaks or defects

To learn more about being a boilermaker, visit the Local #647 website.

Bricklayers

Bricklayers call for a variety of skills. It isn’t simply laying brick after brick. You need to know mortar characteristics inside and out. Reading blueprints, checking specifications, and working with a variety of materials all play into this specialized trade. Normally you will work with a team of skilled men and women, though after you complete your apprenticeship you may choose to work alone.

Bricklaying has become diverse as technology has advanced. You will work with many more materials than traditional bricks. Structural tiles or marble, glass, and concrete blocks could all be used for your building project. You will build walls, chimneys, walkways, foundations, and other structures. These will all form residential, commercial, or industrial projects.

Bricklaying requires strength and stamina. Setting designs into place will take your manual dexterity. You will learn how to use construction tools and construction software to complete each job.

To learn more about being a bricklayer, visit the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Training Center website.

Carpentry

Carpentry is as varied as the day is long. As the first team to be onsite and the last to leave, carpenters can specialize in the following for construction and residential jobs.

  • Wood framing – decks, walls, roofs
  • Interior systems – walls, cabinetry, acoustical ceilings, countertops, furniture
  • Concrete formwork – for sidewalks, foundations, and walls
  • Exterior finish – install windows, walls, decks and patios
  • Interior finish – walls, trim, locks and other hardware, flooring

No matter what you specialize in, you will need to read blueprints and detailed drawings and work safely with both hand and power tools. The work is physically demanding at times and can be both indoor and outdoor. You will use math for excellent measurements and calculations, creativity for problem solving and designing projects. You will also need to be business oriented.

As a carpenter, you will adapt quickly and safely to using different tools to cut, shape, and refine wood into finished projects.

Similar occupations include cement masons, terrazzo workers, construction laborers, drywall and ceiling tile installers, and tile and marble setters.  You can learn more about becoming a carpenter at Build Your Life.

Cement Masons

Cement masons pour, smooth, and finish concrete floors, sidewalks, roads, and curbs. Concrete work is fast paced and strenuous and often involves kneeling, bending and reaching. Cement masons typically do the following:

  • Set the forms that hold concrete in place
  • Install reinforcing rebar or mesh wire to strengthen the concrete
  • Signal truck drivers to facilitate the pouring of concrete
  • Spread, level, and smooth concrete, using a trowel, float, or screed
  • Mold expansion joints and edges
  • Monitor curing (hardening) to ensure a durable, smooth, and uniform finish
  • Apply sealants or waterproofing to protect concrete

Concrete is one of the most common and durable materials used in construction. Once set, concrete—a mixture of cement, sand, gravel, and water—becomes the foundation for everything from decorative patios and floors to huge dams or miles of roadways.

The following are types of Cement Masons:
Cement masons and finishers – place and finish concrete. They may color concrete surfaces, expose aggregate (small stones) in walls and sidewalks, or make concrete beams, columns, and panels.Throughout the process of pouring, leveling, and finishing concrete, cement masons must monitor how the wind, heat, or cold affects the curing of the concrete. They must have a thorough knowledge of the characteristics of concrete so that, by using sight and touch, they can determine what is happening to the concrete and take measures to prevent defects.

Terrazzo workers and finishers – create decorative walkways, floors, patios, and panels. Although much of the preliminary work in pouring, leveling, and finishing concrete is similar to that of cement masons, terrazzo workers create more decorative finishes by blending a fine marble chip into the cement, which is often colored. Once the terrazzo is thoroughly set, workers correct any depressions or imperfections with a grinder to create a smooth, uniform finish.

Electrical

Electricians are highly skilled craft workers. You will be able to have satisfaction by using your mind and hands to work this trade. You will remain active because this is a moderately physical job. As an apprentice, you will learn the skills you need to bring power and communication to buildings of all sizes. You will assemble, install, and test electrical components for fixtures, appliances, machinery, and more.

  • Commercial Electricians help a business stay open by keeping the power up and going. They know the ins and outs of working in larger buildings such as offices, factories, airports, etc.
  • Residential Electricians specialize in wiring and maintaining electrical components in homes, which have different wiring needs from businesses. They are responsible for making a house a cozy home with electricity.
  • Telecommunications Electricians are responsible for laying the cable used to keep us connected. They lay the cable needed for phones, computers, and local network wiring.
  • Linemen work outside and with high voltage power lines, industrial wiring, and highway lighting (including traffic signals). For this reason, it is considered the most dangerous of electrician fields. Linemen are responsible for responding to downed power lines and other power outages. This is a difficult, but rewarding and well-paying job.
  • Industrial Electricians install, maintain, test, troubleshoot and repair industrial electrical equipment and associated electrical and electronic controls, PLC’s and motors. They are employed by electrical contractors and maintenance departments of factories, plants, mines, shipyards and other industrial establishments. They also do work with solar power and wind turbines.

There are three experience levels of electricians:

  1. Apprentice.  An apprentice works closely with an experienced electrician to learn the trade. There is classroom time and on the job training. When your apprenticeship is done, you will have the experience needed for working on your own.
  2. Journeyworker Electrician.  After completing your apprenticeship program and passing your state’s Journeyworker’s Electrical Exam, you can work on electrical systems without supervision. You may work on a variety of systems including lighting, power supply, communications, and security systems – to name a few. The majority of Journeyworkers work in construction. Yet, employment with a utility or manufacturing company is also available.
  3. Master Electrician.  With further work experience, a Journeyworker electrician is able to sit for the Master’s Certification Exam. Successful completion of this exam allows you to design electrical systems and open your own business.

More information can be found at the National Electrical Contractors Association.

Elevator Constructors

As an Elevator Constructor, you will use your intelligence and skills in electricity, computer electronics, physics and hydraulics. You will be building, installing, and maintaining elevators in buildings from small apartment complexes to skyscrapers. To do this, you must know the process of each step from reading the blueprints to building and installing the elevators to testing the completed elevators for safety.

Your four years of training will include classroom time and valuable on the job training. At your apprenticeship’s conclusion you will have a thorough working knowledge of the workings of elevators. You will continually learn through yearly training as technology advances.

Insulators

As a professional Insulator, you will bring value to your community by helping homes and businesses stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. You will spend time in the classroom and on the job training and learning how to interpret blueprints, application techniques, layouts of patterns, and on the job safety. Math and logical reasoning are skills of high value in this skilled profession.

As you learn the fine details of being an insulator, you will begin to recognize the many types of insulation and know their R-value. You will also know what a home or building needs in terms of what is recommended and what is the best insulation R-value.

Iron Workers

Union Ironworkers play a great part in building our future. Nearly all buildings require the skills of ironworkers. Your school, library, hospital, sports stadium, and shopping malls were all built with iron structures. Famous landmarks such as The Golden Gate Bridge and The St. Louis Arch were erected by ironworkers. The men and women who are ironworkers take pride in their work and how they shape our skylines.

Becoming a Journeyworker Ironworker starts with an apprentice program. You will work with a team learning new skills on paid jobs as well as in a classroom setting. Starting this career path doesn’t require knowledge of the craft. You simply must have the desire to learn, like to work outside, and enjoy new challenges. This is a physically demanding job which requires you to use your mind and brawn.

Ironworkers need a good sense of balance, like heights, and enjoy working as a team. You will learn good safety practices — you must stay alert for any potential danger to you or your crew.

There are three main types of ironworkers:

  1. Structural Ironworkers work on the project skeleton. They work primarily with large buildings, towers, bridges, and prefabricated buildings.
  2. Reinforcing Ironworkers are responsible for reinforcing concrete structures. This includes fabrication and placement of steel bars and installing post-tensioning tendons. Hydraulic jacks and pumps are also used to install reinforced steel and stress tendons after the poured concrete has hardened.
  3. Ornamental Ironworkers work on ‘smaller’ details such as stairways, catwalks, grates, doors, railings, fencing, and more. They install metal windows into masonry or wooden openings. They install glass wall systems which cover steel or reinforced concrete structures.

Visit your local union’s website for more information.

Laborers

Grab your steel-toed work boots, hard hat, vest, and safety glasses and start your rewarding career as a laborer! Laborers are the backbone of the construction industry. They work in nearly every facet of construction including, but not limited to, building, highways and roads, environmental remediation, mainline pipeline, distribution, landscaping and commercial cleaning. Specific tasks laborers may perform include asbestos abatement, concrete placement, scaffold erection, mason tending, demolition, plaster tending, and site cleanup.

  • Building – Prep worksites for construction or demolition. Make the entire area safe for all construction workers so there are no injuries or delays. Set up scaffolding, ladders, and other temporary structures used during building.
  • Highway & Heavy – Place road signs, cones, traffic barricades. Control the flow of traffic near, in, and around work zones. Place concrete and asphalt on roads.
  • Environmental Remediation – Find and remove various pollutants from job site soil and water. This helps in the redevelopment process or can also be used to restore the area to its natural state.
  • Mainline Pipeline – Dig trenches. Install sewer, water, and storm drain pipes.
  • Distribution – Load, unload, identify, and distribute the right materials to appropriate job sites. Tend machines such as portable mixers to mix concrete or pumps which apply materials like grout, sand, plaster, cement, stucco.
  • Landscaping – Create a pleasing outdoor space. Can vary from small designs or expansive parks and other projects. Plan, build, and nurture beautiful outdoor spaces for others to enjoy. Cut lawns, pull weeds, and plant, remove, or prune plants. A landscaper knows what plants will work best in their zone, soil type, and for the circumstances of the project.
  • Commercial Cleaning – Clean a site in between different subcontractors, such as preparing the space for painters after the flooring contractors are done. Get a property in tip-top shape when construction is done before the keys are turned over to the new owners. This includes wiping down fixtures, lights, walls, cabinetry, counters, appliances, and floors. May also offer clean up services to sites after construction on a daily or weekly basis.

A Laborer often helps other craftworkers, including carpenters, operating engineers, masons, and plasterers. You can read more at the Laborers Training Center for Minnesota and North Dakota.

Operating Engineers

Are you mechanically inclined and enjoy working with your hands? Then an Operating Engineer may be the job for you. As an Operating Engineer, you will be responsible for maintaining your engine powered heavy equipment. The equipment includes bulldozers, cranes, loaders, and other related heavy equipment. You will use these machines to build dams, bridges, roads, and buildings.

You may also work for the electrical company or other large companies who generate their own power. As a licensed trade professional, you will be responsible for managing the power, heating and cooling systems, and refrigeration equipment. Along with performing routine maintenance and work orders, you will respond to emergency calls. You will operate large machinery such as boilers, gas compressors, and other light and power sources.
Learn more at your Local 49 Union.

Painters

As a painter, you will work with different mediums, know several methods of application, and understand how these affect the surfaces you are covering. As an apprentice, you will learn how to read blueprints. You will practice preparing and finishing surfaces from drywall to wood. You will coordinate colors and decorate finishings. You will understand the use and care needed for state-of-the art tools and equipment you are using. You will follow health and safety regulations. Walls, buildings, bridges, and any structure, really, need your expertise. You will fix blemishes and prepare surfaces and surrounding areas for sealing and painting.

You will use your knowledge to select proper finishes and techniques to best fit the customer’s finished product. You will know how to most effectively and quickly coat large surfaces, and how many coats must be applied. Since you may be working at great heights, you will understand and follow safety measures and how to use the necessary safety equipment. If you want to know more about becoming a Painter, visit the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest.

Plumbers / Pipefitters / Steamfitters/HVAC

If you enjoy math and science, becoming a plumber or pipefitter may be the trade for you. As you work on septic systems or refrigeration or any other project, you are helping protect and preserve our environment. You are also giving homes and businesses access to water, needed for both drinking and sanitation.

As a plumber or pipefitter, you will hold a multifaceted career which involves installation, servicing, maintenance, troubleshooting, and repair. You know and follow state and local building codes as you read blueprints to install a wide variety of projects, from homes to businesses to HVAC systems. You’ll work with all material types, depending on what is best for your job. As installation is complete, you perform pressure tests to ensure pipes are watertight and airtight.

There are four distinct specializations in this trade, although each area installs pipes and fittings to carry water, steam, other liquids and gases, or air. The tools used include saws, welding torches, drills, and wrenches.

  • Plumbers generally work in a residential setting. They work on many areas critical to modern homes, from toilets to washing machines to water heaters. Plumbers are needed to inspect, install, test, and repair worn out parts. They may also maintain septic systems for homes not connected to a sewer system.
  • Pipefitters and Steamfitters are sometimes called fitters. They specialize in working with gas or steam. They install and maintain the pipes in industrial buildings, office buildings, and power plants. These pipes may carry gases, chemicals, or acids. Heating and cooling systems is also a specialization for pipefitters.
  • HVAC technicians have the experience needed to install, maintain, and repair heating and cooling systems. They work in residential and commercial buildings. HVAC technicians often will work on refrigeration systems and things that impact those systems.

Learn more at Plumbers & Steamfitters JATC 11 & 589.

Roofers

As a Roofer, you will be in charge of keeping families and businesses dry and protected from the elements. The experience you gain in an apprenticeship and specialized manufacturer training will give you the insight you need to assess, recommend, and repair damaged roofs. You will also know what goes into building a new or replacement roof.

Because you will be working on roofs, you should have good balance and not fear heights. You will need reasonable skills in carpentry and arithmetic. In your apprenticeship you will learn safety, blueprint reading, job estimating, and waterproofing. You will gain hands on knowledge of the equipment and materials used, and how to erect the required scaffolds and hoists. You will learn how to measure, cut, and fit each material together and how to install shingles.

There are five main material focuses which you will learn. You may also choose to become an expert in one or two of them through further experience and education provided by manufacturers.

  • Asphalt shingles
  • Wood shakes
  • Tile/concrete shingles
  • Metal roofs
  • Rubber roofs

Learn more at United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local 96.

Sheet Metal

If you enjoy working with your hands, joining the trade of Sheet Metal Workers could be the job for you. This trade remains one of the few where tradespersons start with raw material for custom and complex systems and then install them.

As a Sheet Metal Worker, you will take blueprints and verbal requests and turn them into any shape or size. You will work on the fabrication, erection, and installation of systems to heat, cool, and ventilate buildings. You will also repair, replace, and otherwise service residential heating and air conditioning systems. This includes any architectural sheet metal work on those residences to provide a completely controlled environment.

This trade is much more than working on ‘conditioned air’ as it is usually condensed to. You will know all the elements of solar installation, soldering, hoisting and rigging. You will be skilled in energy management and retrofitting environmental systems.  Sheet Metal Workers are an integral part of keeping manufacturing plants safe on a day to day basis. They provide systems to safely remove fumes, smoke, dust, odors, and other dangerous contaminants we face every day.

You will use your mechanical aptitude, mathematics, and reading comprehension each day in your important role as a Sheet Metal Worker. You may work on hospital and restaurant equipment, aircraft, sign making, and shipbuilding. These are only a handful of industries which rely on Sheet Metal Workers for success.

Learn more at the Minnesota Chapter of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association.

Teamsters

Teamster construction drivers drive a large variety of construction equipment including tractor-trailers; flatbeds or lowboy trailers; mixer trucks; end-dump, belly-dump or side-dump trucks; road repair equipment; fuel trucks; water trucks; mechanics trucks and even the job site crew buses. This career is more than just driving. You will learn how to operate the implements on some trucks, such as dumping loads, attaching the mixer chutes and strapping or chaining down equipment.

Learn more at Teamsters Building Material & Construction Trade Division