Pathways to Leadership

Pathways to Leadership:

There are many ways people can develop their leadership skills and increase their involvement with a labor organization.  This increased visibility, engagement and responsibility is something anyone can do at any point in their career.  Following the Leadership Flowchart, here are some options for members working to hone their leadership skills.  Remember that there is not any one right answer or pathway – pick a few things you’re interested in or passionate about and try it – you may be surprised at where it takes you.

Apprenticeship: Whether you are a prospective applicant with limited experience in the construction world or have extensive experience and are looking to join the union, a good place to start is with apprenticeship. 

Enrolling in an apprenticeship program will:

  • Increase your networking circle – you’ll meet other apprentices and have opportunities to network with them about jobsite expectations, company policies, good/bad supervisors, tips and tricks when it comes to the tools, etc.
  • Sharpen your skills – even if you have experience, you’ll have a safe place to try new work practices and share or learn new ideas.
  • Expose you to some of the ‘hidden’ protocols of the organization – both from the training side and the labor side.  You’ll be introduced to Business Representatives, Coordinators, Organizers and staff who will be able to answer questions you have about the apprenticeship, the union, or the JATC.

If you’re having trouble meeting or exceeding the minimum requirements for apprenticeship, there are many community organizations out there who can help.  Pre-apprenticeship programs can help you build a resume, give you practice with mock interviews, and even help tutor you with hands on skills like math or reading a tape measure.  There are a great number of math tutorials online to help you study for entrance examinations, and some training centers even hold math tutorial sessions for applicants. Many apprenticeship programs give extra ‘points’ towards your application ranking based on experience with tools in a construction setting, however, it often doesn’t need to be in an employment setting.  Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity or another building volunteer organization will not only help the community, but help you build your resume with experience in construction labor.

Mentorship: Whether you are an apprentice or a journey-level worker, getting involved with a mentoring program is a great way to build not just your skills, but others’ skills and the connections internal to the union.  Becoming a mentee or mentor holds great benefits for all involved.  (Don’t have a mentoring program at your local? Start one! More information on how can be found through the SMART Women’s website.)

Committee Involvement: Most locals have committees – groups of people who meet on a regular basis to strategize about varying aspects of their union, whether it be for contract negotiations, contractor partnering, political action, community volunteering, promotion of women/diversity, or member support services.  Attend your union meetings regularly to learn more about what committees your local has actively and talk with the people on the committees that interest you about getting involved.  If there’s a specific area that you feel passionately about but doesn’t have an existing committee, talk with your business manager or write them a letter explaining your thought process and what you’re willing to do to help.  (Looking for a letter template? Check out the template forms for letters to business managers/executive boards on the SMART Women’s website Resource page)

Volunteering: If your schedule is packed and you’re unsure of the commitment required to sit on a committee or be a mentor, another great way to get involved with your union is to volunteer.  Most locals have active chapters of the SMART Army, and you can sign up to engage your community along with your union family.  Activities may range from political actions like attending school board meetings, phone banking, or handing out flyers at events – check with the organizers and business representatives at your hall for a schedule of events, or to be added to an email list.  Sign up for events you can make work with your schedule.

Recruiting events are another great way to make an impact for your union and your community.  It can help you build your public speaking skills and refresh your excitement about the trade speaking to members of the community looking for a life-changing career.  Many training center coordinators and organizers are flooded with outreach events and are always looking for volunteers.  (Want some outreach or recruiting ideas? SMART Women’s Resource page can start your brainstorming.)

Lead/Foreperson Position: Becoming a supervisor of other workers requires a skill set that can take years to build.  Using some of the actions mentioned above, like mentoring, sitting on a committee, or volunteering can help increase your awareness around the things you may need to work on to nab that lead position. 

In addition, you can help yourself stand out at work by:

  • Setting a good example – by possessing punctuality, a positive attitude, willingness to learn and coordinate with others.  Remember that most leaders don’t want to hear about problems with a job – they want to hear how you propose to solve them.  Practice communicating with others using this tip.
  • Asking for a stretch assignment – these are jobs, positions or experience that will challenge you, test your abilities, and help you grow.  There are many times during these experiences where you will need to ask for guidance or help. 
  • Taking the initiative to educate yourself – read books on leadership/management best practices, investigate attending a leadership seminar or class, or explore your options for going back to school for construction management.

Apply for an Appointed Position within the Local: Enjoy helping people? Want to change the pathway of someone’s life and career? If you have your sights set on a position within your local union, one way to achieve that spot is by appointment, whether it’s becoming an instructor for the JATC, or an organizer for the local.  Both are extremely rewarding careers, and both pathways can lead you to doors that may open for you in the future.  (Looking to update your resume or build a CV from scratch? Head to the SMART Women’s Resource page for tips and tricks on resume building and interviewing skills!) 

Run for Local Union Office: Like being involved in union activities? Ready to campaign for office? There are many elected positions within local unions you can run for – from executive board to warden, to business agent or manager.  (For advice and ideas on getting ready to campaign for office, check out the SMART Women’s Resource page)