Mentoring the Future
In Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, representatives reach out to new Union Carpenters one-on-one. Their assignment is to mentor new members until they can thrive on their own.
Membership retention has long been a dilemma for our union, training centers, and contractors. New members sometimes leave the trade with no warning and little feedback about why they are leaving.
On the east side, representatives call new members within the first week of joining, then follow up monthly. If they decide to leave, staff reaches out to that individual to conduct an exit interview. The insights and feedback that is gathered are entered into a shared system to reflect and learn from.
“It is too early to tell if we are getting information that ultimately will be useful to us in new member retention,” said Tyson Stuber, Regional Manager for Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming areas, “especially through this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Joel Worth, LU 82, is a representative in Butte, Montana. His dad was a Union Carpenter. Joel graduated from the Anaconda Job Corps Carpentry Program and joined the union 15 years ago.
“Making a new member feel welcome is key to getting them engaged on the job and in the union,” said Worth. “I invite them to informational and union meetings, help them find tools, and make sure they have the right clothes. Most have never been on a construction site before, so I check in with them to see how they are doing. I listen to what they have to say and keep in touch with their foreman and superintendent to find out how they are doing on the job.”
“It pays off. With support, the people who really want a career in carpentry will work out reasons to stay engaged.”
Kaylee Froemke | Local 82
First-period apprentice Kaylee Froemke (LU 82) is an example of how effective mentorship keeps apprentices engaged. Currently, she works for Custom Construction, building residential projects with a small, tight-knit crew. She is enjoying the work.
“Joel called me after my first day to see how things went,” said Froemke. “I know I can count on him if I have questions or moments of negativity.”
Joel sent her as a guest to the November 2019 delegate meeting. “It was amazing to be part of this event and be there for the EST election,” she said. “I talked to other sisters and learned a lot about the organization.”
“It’s important to me to journey out,” Froemke continued, “to finish my apprenticeship. I like being a carpenter. I want to learn. I’m especially interested in fine finish work, the more detailed the work, the better I like it.”
Jordan Welsh | Local 82
Jordan Welsh, also LU 82 member and a life-long resident of Butte, Montana journeyed out last spring. He is working for Stillwagon Construction, a residential contractor. “We get to do everything from dirt to drapes,” he quipped.
He was mentored throughout his apprenticeship by Joel, and other carpenters on the job, so Welsh continued the tradition. “I was lucky to work with journeymen like Jeremy Lee (LU 82), who taught me a lot,” said Welsh. “but, sometimes being a mentor means just being a good listener.”
You don’t have to be a journeyman to be a mentor. As Jordan pointed out, apprentices can help each other out in the classroom and on the job. “The work is tough sometimes,” he said, “But if you work hard and ask questions, you’ll make progress.”
Retention is a problem across the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Mentoring is one crucial part of moving forward in gaining and keeping new members. Some new members are unprepared for the hard work and long commutes. For others, the trade is a hidden career path. The construction industry has long grappled with its “FBI” culture, a reference to how people usually got a union job – through friends, brothers, or inlaws. While job sites have become more diverse, women and people of color are still under-represented in construction. Work continues to ensure opportunities for all.
“Our team will continue mentoring efforts,” said Stuber. “We believe that patterns will emerge upon which we can build practices that help us keep people in our union and keep them working toward successful careers in the construction trade.”
We’ve been checking in with apprentices across our region.
Read how work is going with Tyi Steffens, Apprentice at the Emanuel ASI Project.