Apprenticeships offer debt-free career path

Get paid while you train, avoid tuition fees, student loans

IT’S A SIMPLE FACT — when workers have access to good-paying union jobs with family-sustaining benefits and strong worker protections, they don’t just lift up themselves, they lift up entire communities. Thanks to recent federal investments, construction union members aren’t just building infrastructure – we’re building up a thriving middle class, and we want you to be part of it. 

Now is a banner moment to join a building trades union, especially with the passage of the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill which is creating vast amounts of new funding to repair and strengthen the roads, bridges, public transit, airports, schools, and more that support our nation and our economy. The historic investments that President Biden’s leadership has brought to our nation’s infrastructure has paved the way for us to stop the decline of our nation’s transit and public service infrastructure not just for safety reasons but also for economic reasons. The estimated $9.5 billion in Massachusetts-specific infrastructure investments will create even more opportunities for highly-skilled jobs in the unionized construction industry. In fact, President Biden has insisted that these investments include apprenticeship requirements. 

Building trades unions create life-changing opportunities by giving workers paid training, family-sustaining wages, top-quality health insurance benefits, and secure retirements. More women and people of color than ever are taking advantage of these opportunities. In fact, 92 percent of tradeswomen apprentices in Massachusetts are enrolled in union apprenticeship programs. With skyrocketing college tuition costs and rampant inflation, union trade jobs and paid apprenticeship programs offer a debt-free career path. And a lucrative one – union workers earn 18 percent more than non-union workers, a difference of around $10,000 a year. 

Becoming a union building trades worker has changed our lives. As apprentices, there was no need to shell out thousands of dollars in tuition fees or take out loans to get a foot in the door like many other young Americans. Instead, we get paid to receive top-notch training from industry leaders. Now we are working to pay it forward by creating opportunities for others, helping make every construction job an excellent union career and ensuring everyone has the same access to these opportunities. 

Massachusetts building trades unions create more opportunities for women than any other state, with female union apprenticeships numbering three times the national average. In the construction industry, unions are outpacing their non-union counterparts nearly 10 to 1 regarding having women on the job. Unions also help close the racial wage gap – in fact, Black and Hispanic workers actually get a larger pay increase from joining a union relative to what they would earn in a non-union job. Having a union card at work means that you have a contractual guarantee that you will be paid the same as those doing the same work – non-union construction workers simply don’t have that same equity.

Together we’re spreading the message of how union careers can lift workers up into the security of the middle class. Massachusetts’ nationally-recognized success in recruiting and training workers results from years of investment from construction unions, union contractors, and community partners. 

Meet the Author

Shamaiah Turner

Business agent, Sheet Metal Workers Local # 17 Boston
Meet the Author

Sean McGarvey

President, North American Building Trades Union (NABTU)
Here’s our message to graduates and the thousands of people, young and those looking for a new career, seeking a better life for themselves: check out the union building trades. Join a union for a secure, debt-free pathway to a high-paying career that can help you achieve your dreams. The door is wide open to become a union apprentice in any number of trades – and the building trades unions in Massachusetts are excited to welcome you. There are more than 20 different kinds of trade work to choose from in Massachusetts and beyond, all of which can pay you great wages and great benefits. Join us. 

Shamaiah Turner is a member and business agent of Sheet Metal Worker’s Local #17 out of Boston. Sean McGarvey started his career with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades  in 1981 in Philadelphia. He subsequently worked his way up through various union leadership positions.  In 2005, Sean was elected Secretary-Treasurer of North American Building Trades Union, and in 2012 he was unanimously elected to NABTU’s office of president.