Burnsville High School senior joins apprenticeship program to pursue her passion for engineering
Ever since she was a young child, Vernessa Jones has had a passion for building things. She enjoys working with her hands, being creative and solving problems. She knows her future career will not include sitting behind a desk all day long, so she jumped at the opportunity to learn about jobs in the skilled trades.
This past winter, school counselor John Soderholm and Marcia Sexton, college and career specialist, held a trade skills and union jobs symposium for 11th- and 12th-grade students. It was a chance for students to hear about different trades jobs and what they offered.
Vernessa attended the event and was immediately intrigued. After doing some research online, she connected with representatives from the Twin Cities Ironworkers Local 512. Through this connection, she is now participating in its apprenticeship program — a four-year, paid program in which apprentices receive on-the-job practical training and classroom instruction.
Starting wages for ironworker apprentices are 70% of a journeyman’s wage, with 5% pay increases every six months. Experienced ironworkers - known as journeymen - can expect steady employment, job security and the opportunity to advance in their career.
After going through a full week of paid training, Vernessa will begin full-time employment this summer with full benefits and a pension. She’ll also get assistance to earn her bachelor's degree in engineering.
“Vernessa is a wonderful young lady who has great promise for her future,” said Veronica Marshall, BHS counselor. “She is strong, intelligent and not afraid to break barriers! I am so happy for her and for this opportunity. I am proud of all she has done and the person she is becoming. I cannot wait to see what she accomplishes!”
We caught up with Vernessa to talk about her decision to become an apprentice.
When you attended the symposium, what about the presentation made you want to reach out to Twin Cities Ironworkers about the apprenticeship?
I’ve always wanted to be an engineer and was fascinated with what was presented. I looked on their website, and the program seemed like it had great benefits and would help me in my pursuit to become a civil engineer.
What does the apprenticeship program look like for you this summer?
I can start training right away once the school year ends. When I turn 18, I can start working on different jobs where I’ll be learning new skills and developing them. Evening classes will take place twice a week beginning in August, but I will be working during the day while I take classes. At job sites, there will be a foreman who provides direction for my work on that job.
What skills do you hope to gain while in the apprenticeship program?
Welding skills but also team-building skills. The goal of the program is for me to learn and develop a variety of skills in the trades. Even though I already have some welding skills, I’m not the best. But, this will help me develop those skills and more.
What are your thoughts about entering this male-dominated field?
I’m a little scared, but only because I’m the youngest one in the program. I am definitely ready to start the program. There’s an expectation for me to do a good job, and I’m excited to show what I can do. Even though there are not many women in the program, they all are expected to pull their own weight. And, they definitely do that, even more than some of the men.
How will this program help you with your long-term career goals?
It has a lot of benefits - health, retirement and a good starting salary. I like to do hands-on work, and I think it’s going to be fun. Right away with little to no experience, I will be making $28/hr. At the end of the program, I will be certified as a journeyman and have the option to either start working in the field or go to college to get a civil engineering degree. Since I’m going to have to pay for college myself, this job will allow me to have the funds to pay for college, if that’s what I end up choosing to do.
What college do you plan on attending?
Iowa State or St. Cloud State, both have good engineering programs.
Where does your work ethic come from?
From both of my parents. My dad was in the army and has always provided for our family - all 13 of us! My mom worked two jobs for a long time. She’s a hard worker and made sure we were taken care of.
What are you passionate about?
I want to make the world a better place through building things. Besides building things, I like making music and want to study music at college, too.