YOUnion_NY: Rikki, Local 46 Sheet Metal Worker

Susan Stark


My name is Rikki Allison. I’m 31 years old and I am a member of Local 46 Sheet Metal Workers. I am currently a first-year apprentice. Before joining Local 46, I participated in a pre-apprenticeship program called MAPP that is located in Rochester, New York. The MAPP program is a four-month program that gives us a piece of every trade to see what we like, what we can potentially be good at, things like that.
MAPP has literally changed my life. Nowhere else have I ever heard of them giving you a golden opportunity and everything from clothing to tools, materials, skills, math, to just networking. I never imagined that one program can do so much.
You start with Project Phoenix, which is designed to help you become a better employee. We did some math work, we went over power tools and hand tools, and we had a lot of hands on experience. It helped prepare me for the field as far as knowing what to wear and knowing I had to be early instead of on time. It exposed me to networking, so I was able to meet with people from different building trades and I got a feel for what everyone does. They also provided me with first aid training, CPR training, and OSHA 10 certification. The MAPP program was a tremendous help to me in so many different ways.

I graduated from the MAPP program in April. That was actually my first graduation, so it meant so much to me. Before we even graduated, they allowed me to fill out the application for Local 46 Sheet Metal Workers union. I already have a little history in sheet metal and I knew I wanted to weld, but I didn't know exactly which field I wanted to go into. When they exposed me to Local 46, I felt right at home. Soon after I filled out the apprenticeship application, I was offered an opportunity to work here, at Postler & Jaeckle. I started working before I even graduated. That's how great MAPP is. I'm going to be honest, the MAPP program made it very easy to get into an apprenticeship. They have direct entry status, so I didn't have to compete. The great part about Local 46 is there's no entry test to hinder you. I was given a golden opportunity and as long as I worked hard, the apprenticeship was provided to me. 

I love my job. My favorite part of my job right now is between delivering the duct to Rochester General, because I get to see the progress that they're making on the site and learning new things here in the shop. Every day I'm learning something new that's going to help me remain employable. I want to make sure I'm employable and what that means for me is being able to do a variety of different things, not just being complacent in a shop, you know? Ultimately, I would like to be in a shop because my goal is to be a permanent welder. A lot of trades are bound by weather, but being in sheet metal is a bit different because the masons have the foundation mostly ready for us. We’re not really affected by the weather unless it's like super bad and it's a no travel zone. Other than that, our work is pretty consistent year-round. That's another reason why I chose this field.

The union offers great benefits. As a union member, I’ll be able to have a pension, annuities, and death benefits. My family and I would be completely covered. Health insurance is really important especially being in a risky field. The goal is to go home the same way you came in, but in the event that something bad happens it's nice to know that you have some great health benefits that are going to take care of that.

I have nothing against college but don't waste your money on student loans. It's not guaranteed. A lot of people who go to college to fulfill whatever dream they may have don't always work in that field. And then after a while your degree is not being used and you're still paying back money. The pre-apprenticeship program that I went through paid me to learn a trade.
There are so many benefits to actually being able to be skilled with your hands. No one can ever take that from you. No matter what you do and no matter where you go, the trades are always going to be needed. Technology is taking over a lot of occupations but this career is going to be forever because someone's always going to need something built or fixed or worked on.
I haven't really had any struggles. Everyone has been super pleasant and encouraging. I work with a ton of guys. There's only one other woman that works with me and everyone is super nice. I think the hardest part is that they underestimate my strength. Sometimes I have to tell the guys, let me do it, I'm fine. I can lift this or I can move that. They just underestimate. But then again, it's probably just them being gentlemen. I really can’t tell the difference. Either way, you have to prove yourself and stand out a little bit because they don't think that you can do it or that you should do it. You've got to be strong mentally and physically and you need to know that this is what you want. I think that's the hardest part. I was told that being a woman in construction I will never be without a job if I work hard. I like that part. I don't think I've had any bad criticism or anything like that.
When I started, I think everyone was amazed that I was just so willing to jump in and get dirty since a lot of women don't like that type of stuff. I don't know what they really expected, but I'm sure I exceeded their expectations.
So far, my greatest accomplishment is that I can finally say I made my parents proud. My mom came to my graduation for the pre-apprenticeship program and I think everyone cried when I gave my speech. People I didn't even know felt my passion. To see that I had an effect on a crowd of people and more importantly my mom, meant the world to me. My number one goal is to make sure that my parents are completely satisfied in life. I want to be able to take care of them. With the money I'll be making, I'll be able to do that. It feels good to see that they have a certificate and pictures hanging on the wall and to know that I can show my daughter a better way as well. I can give her something to be proud about. 

My Dad is a member of a union. He was actually an electrician for about 27 or 28 years. Now I see what he means about feeling pride. We'll drive around anywhere in Rochester and he's like, “I did that, I worked on that building, and I put those lights up all by myself.” I understand that feeling now and I can't wait to be able to say things like that. Once I decided to get into trades, it gave us so much more to talk about. Before, outside of like family things, the only thing that we really had in common was welding. He loves to weld, I love to weld. Now, I can tell him I have a union meeting and he says Oh yeah, I remember how that goes. It's a whole different conversation between my father and me now.

I would absolutely encourage people to join a labor union. Feel free to pick whatever trade you want, but sheet metal is the one for me. It gives you a sense of pride and you never have a dull day. There's always something going on in construction. You can be a part of your community in multiple ways. I think a lot of people underestimate the benefits of being in a union.
Being part of a union is like a brotherhood and sisterhood. It's extended family. The benefits are great. Some trades even have two or three annuities. When you retire, you're set for the rest of your life. Why wouldn't you want that type of job security and benefits?
I would definitely recommend it to any young woman who’s interested. At least give it a shot and make it work for you. As far as like heavy lifting and stuff, there's going to be times where you're going to be in pain. It's inevitable in this type of field. No matter which trade you go into, if that is something that will hinder you from completing a job then I wouldn't recommend it. But if you're determined you can do it. 

For anyone who is interested or think they may be interested in a trade I would definitely recommend going through a pre-apprenticeship program first just to get a feel. That way no one feels like you're wasting their time and you're not wasting your own either. There are still many benefits to go in to being a pre-apprentice. I don't think there's any training facility that's looking to spend a few thousand dollars on training someone who ultimately isn't interested. I would definitely recommend a pre-apprenticeship program, specifically MAPP.

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A photography project of Workforce Development Institute - Shining a spotlight on women emerging in the union workforce.