You’re just about to begin your second week as an apprentice electrician at the construction site of the hospital’s giant new patient care facility: How do you like it?
It’s mostly good. I have real tasks to accomplish, and I feel like my work is important, plus I’m learning lots. Also, I’m very conscious of all the ways in which it could be a million times worse.
What’s your schedule?
This is the hard part: I work Monday to Friday, from 7 am to 3: 20 pm. Which means I get up at 5:30 am. Which sucks, because I am a night owl. Also, I’m the sort of person who does better with several part-time jobs as opposed to a single longer gig, and have also spent much of the past several years working at a university where the maximum workday is 7 hours long. In contrast, I now work right through the day, with a 15 minute break at 10 and another 1/2 hour at noon. It’s a tough adjustment.
How much do you get paid?
As a total beginner, I’m making the pre-apprentice rate of about $14/hour. After a three month probationary period, I will be officially indoctrinated/inducted into the Internati0nal Br0therh00d of Electrical W0rkers, after which my wage will increase to about $17/hour. It will continue to go up every six months after that, depending on where I’m employed. Currently, my wage is around 40% of that of a journeyman’s, which prompted my supervisory journeyman to tell me I only have to work 40% as hard as him. Sounds good to me, thanks!
Did you have to buy a car like all your classmates at trade school said you would?
No. The construction site is in the city, and I can ride my bike there in about 25 minutes. I easily carried my tools with me on the first day, and I leave them on site (in a lock box). However, Oats and I are seriously considering buying a car anyway, simply because we want to make the most of our evenings and weekends, and it’d be faster to run errands and go hiking if we had our own vehicle.
What do you do all day?
I spent all this past week bending conduit, which is steel metal tubing, and bolting it to ceilings and the metal studs that will form the hospital’s walls. Eventually, wiring will be run through these tubes, and connected to the nurse call system so that patients can get assistance when they need it.
Is it difficult?
Well, I almost hurled when I found out that’s what my job would be, because bending conduit was the one assignment at trade school that I hated: I was so bad at it that it wasn’t even funny. However, after spending so much time doing it this past week, and getting some great instruction, I’ve got the hang of it and find it pretty damn satisfying.
Who tells you what to do?
I have a foreman, but he’s more for general directions around the site, and mostly I deal with the journeyman to whom I was assigned. I think I’ll call him Rémy, because his real name is another lovely French name. He is in his 50s, I’d guess, and spent 30 years working for General M0t0rs before layoffs sent him elsewhere. As you may have inferred, he is a Francophone from Québec, which is why I got put with him: There are few French-speakers on site, and a lot of people don’t understand Rémy’s accent, to the point of rudeness, I’ve realized, which is fucked up… But that’s fodder for another post.
What tools do you use?
More than anything, I use a Robertson #2 screwdriver. Also, a hacksaw, for cutting the conduit, and a pair of sidecutters for reaming the end smooth. Those are all my own, along with a wide selection of other hand tools. I was the lucky recipient of a great gift: My friend’s mother is a retired electrician, and she passed on her collection of tools to me. Again, fodder for another post… But I wear her beautiful leather tool pouch every day, and feel all the more capable for it.
On my first day, I was also issued tools and equipment from the company for which I work: A cordless drill (which I use with screwdriver bits for driving screws), a hammer drill (to make holes in the cement ceiling for placing anchors), a conduit bender (AKA a “hickey”), and a big wooden step ladder (10 ft?).
What are your coworkers like?
There are over 700 workers crawling all over site, and over 150 working for the electrical company that hired me. It’s a lot of men, though as I’d been told, there are many more women than are often employed in similar places. People are friendly enough, but seem to stick to themselves. This is to be expected, I guess… As the work ebbs and flows according to the pace of construction, all our jobs are temporary, and there’s just no point in getting attached. In the lunch room, I sit with my former classmate, who was hired at the same time as me and whom I’ll call Drew, and three other random folks who were using the table before we arrived: Two guys closer to my age, and a fellow in his 60s. Pending the discovery of a willing fourth for Euchre (my initiative), one of these guys spent Friday’s lunch entertaining us with card tricks, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
What’s the most annoying thing you’ve been asked?
A few times now, I’ve been asked if my father is an electrician. WTF?!!!
I like to respond with a casual: “No, is yours?”
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