Fourth-Year Apprentice Steve Swaney is not quite like most of our Local 26 apprentices. At 51 years old, he finds himself a few decades older than most of his fellow apprentices in the program. While most people his age would be hesitant about returning back to school at this stage in their life, Steve is excited by the educational opportunities he has at his disposal and the opportunity to pursue a rewarding career.
Swaney worked in the electronics industry, performing repair work, for 25 years prior to joining Local 26. He was self-trained and focused mainly on circuit board repair. In 2011, his industry was beginning to bottom out so he took a semi-retirement, where he worked odd jobs on the side. When a good friend of his, who worked for Mona Electric, approached Steve about pursuing a second career in the electrical trades, his interest was piqued.
Steve’s friend knew that Steve’s experience in the electronics industry would translate to the electrical trade and that his background with control circuits would help him become an inside wireman, but Steve still need confidence. He worked for Mona for a year and a half before applying to the apprenticeship so he could “get his feet wet and be 100% sure this was what he wanted to do.”
While it was a leap of faith for him to consider going into an entirely new profession, the one thing he was certain about after working that short time for Mona was that if he was going to give it a go, he wanted to commit to the apprenticeship program. “At my age, I needed every advantage possible,” he said.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge with entering the apprenticeship program?
A: Going back to school at my age presented challenges with mixing with the younger age groups, understanding how they learn and interact with each other. The change in my lifecycle at home has also been challenging. I spend a lot of time on the road with a changing work schedule and I still need to find time to study and do my homework so I can come to class prepared.
Q: What has been the best part of the apprenticeship program?
A: I have enjoyed interacting with the younger generations. I have had the privilege of watching them develop, change, grow and mature through their apprenticeship since I still go to class with the same core group of people. Being older, certain guys will lean on me for advice and I like that. Because of my life experience, I can give back to them.
Q: Since you came from the non-union, did you have any knowledge or opinion of the union trades?
A: I didn’t have an opinion about unions prior to joining Local 26 but I have learned a lot about the core of the union, which is the brotherhood. We look out for each other and share a unique bond even though we may not really know each other. And, those bonds continue across other locals as I have worked with people from other local unions.
Q: In your opinion, what is the best program within Local 26?
A: I am impressed by our medical device closet. That signifies that our union bond is truly forever, even into older age.
Q: How has your life changed for the better since joining Local 26?
A: I have better benefits now, specifically the medical benefits which are outstanding. Before I just had emergency benefits which were costly and came with a high deductible. For someone in their 20’s coming into the trade, a career with Local 26 is the best opportunity for them to make a good living with good benefits at a young age.
Q: What are your future plans as you near the end of your apprenticeship?
A: I am always looking for control work jobs. Within the union I would love to give back to the apprenticeship one day, maybe by becoming an instructor in 10-15 years. I would even love to give back in a voluntary role.
Q: What would you say to others who might be working a dead-end or unfulfilling job who might be afraid to make the kind of change you did?
A: There is always the ability to make a life change like this. People think it’s too late to change but options are always out there. Local 26 is a five-year commitment and then you are given everything. You have to go for it!
This feature first ran in the 4th quarter 2018 In Charge magazine.