By Isabella Ruesing
I grew up watching my dad as a painter. I saw how hard he worked and knew I wanted to work with him even when I was young. My name is Isabella Ruesing, and I am an 18-year-old glazing apprentice. I chose glazing because I wanted to do something with math and put something good out into the world. I knew I was bound for something other than college and saw construction as a way toward that.
As a first-year glazing apprentice, I am so thankful for the opportunities the apprenticeship has given me. I didn’t choose construction because I was forced into it; I chose construction because I wanted to do something to help others while working with my hands. The work may be hard, but I know the kind of doors it’ll open for me. I know that construction will lead me to larger and better things. I wish other people could see it the same way I do.
In schools today, starting around the fifth grade, the idea of college becomes a major push. Students these days are told that college is the only way forward in life. They’re told if they want a good-paying job to support their family, the college will get them there. But the American school system is doing a disservice to students, whether intentionally or not, by not telling them about the amazing opportunities in construction.
Students are only given half the story; some of them are even told negative things about construction. Kids are warned that physical labor is “grunt work” and that it’s “only for people who didn’t do well in school,” but that is not true in the slightest. Working with your hands is a tuned skill that you have to hone through years of training and practice. On top of that, there’s little to no access to information that would prove otherwise.
So from a young age, kids only know what they’re told. Labor unions aren’t always at school job fairs; no one tells the kids about them. The kids who express an interest in labor are sometimes shut down about it.
I’ll never forget when I told an administrator in my high school about not wanting to go to college. I was told something like, “You’re a very smart girl, don’t sell yourself short because you don’t think you’ll get in.” That took the wind right out of me if I’m being honest. I was raised to understand the value of hard work, and hearing the administration discredit it so quickly was like a punch in the gut.
I’m one of the lucky ones to have grown up with it. I knew when I was young that college wasn’t for me. It made my high school career so much easier because I wasn’t worried about scholarships, schools and making a certain grade. I didn’t have to worry about any of it because I knew I would work for a union. But there are kids unlike me out there. They’re building up thousands of dollars in college debt for something they might not want to do.
That’s one area where I think the construction industry and labor unions need to do more. Labor unions should be reaching out to schools and students to show them there are more ways than college to get ahead in life. The union has been a lifesaver for me, and I am so grateful to be learning the value of hard work firsthand.