Applying To A Union


United Trades
Applying to a union

By Michael Bradley

Applying for a union apprenticeship can be a daunting process. Most applicants have no idea what the entrance exams will cover, who they’ll be interacting with, or what qualities their unions are going to be looking for. To say the least, this can make applying to your local union a very confusing (and perhaps intimidating) task. Today, we give you the 100% truth about what to expect, and how to prepare for your big day at “the hall”.

You don’t need to “know anyone” to land a union apprenticeship:

‚ÄčAny discussion of the union application process absolutely MUST start with this point. If there ever was a day when “knowing someone” was your only way into a union apprenticeship, it certainly is not today. Modern unions are looking for the best and brightest applicants to take part in their apprenticeships, with no exceptions whatsoever. If you think about this, it makes perfect sense.

As an apprentice in your local union, you will receive an incredibly vast and sophisticated education in the trade of your choice FREE OF CHARGE! This education is being payed for by the honest laborers and tradesmen in your local, and they don’t take kindly to seeing their hard earned dollars wasted. If you were to flunk out of the apprenticeship, tons of money happily invested in your education by the local’s members would be wasted, and completely lost. Nobody wants this, and for it; everybody is subject to the same exact academic standards and aptitude tests.

Further (and perhaps most importantly), your union needs you to be employable (preferably VERY employable). As a union member, you will be awarded multiple benefits such as health care, dental care, pension and annuity funds, disability, etc. These benefits are (again) provided for you by the hard working people of your local union. Should some unemployable knucklehead be allowed in for knowing “uncle chuck”, he would constantly be laid off by employers, and the union would lose money covering him. Again, nobody wants this.

You don’t need prior experience to land a union apprenticeship:

You would think this point would be self evident, but allow me to underscore its importance. You are applying for the opportunity to learn a trade, not necessarily to immediately perform work in that trade. As an applicant, the union will be most concerned with your ability to absorb the material in its apprenticeship curriculum. Should you have prior experience in your chosen trade, or perhaps a related field; this of course helps you (because it dramatically increases your chances of success in the apprenticeship), but many apprentices enter their respective unions with little or no background in their field of choice.

Many applicants also underestimate the influence of college education in the application process, but unions love to get college students in their application rosters. Why is this you might ask? Because college students possess a verifiable track record of learning and absorbing information from a wide variety of fields and subjects. College students are also less likely to be “academically stale” when the apprenticeship begins. Many applicants with nothing but work backgrounds haven’t seen a classroom or performed academic assignments since high school.

Entrance Exams:

Depending upon the union, entrance exams will cover standard academic subjects, and various aptitude tests. Any given applicant should feel comfortable with mathematics (ranging from fractions and decimals, to algebra and functions), reading comprehension (normally measured by answering questions about subjects you just read), vocabulary comprehension (measured by pairing words with their definitions, or understanding the relationships between given words), spatial relations (measured by asking you to perform tasks in your head. Like folding boxes, arranging shapes, spotting patterns, following lines, etc.), and mechanical aptitude (measured normally by asking you to answer questions about pictures. Like “If gear A turns clockwise, what direction will gear B turn?”, or “Which one of these objects will hit the ground first?”.). If you spend honest time studying these subjects, there is no reason for you to do poorly.

One key thing to note about union entrance exams (and most other exams of these types), is that they tend to be timed. In many cases you will be given a large number of problems, and a seemingly impossible amount of time to complete them. Don’t be discouraged! In most cases the union does not expect you to complete all the problems given, and (provided that you focused on producing accurate answers) it is perfectly possible to pass these tests with questions remaining. Ask your instructor if there is a penalty for guessing. If there is no penalty, you can always guess at the remaining test questions to improve your score.

One trick is to look at the letter answers that you’ve put down so far. Tests tend to have equal distributions of letter answers (Meaning a 100 question test should have should have approximately 25 each of letters A,B,C, and D). So if you notice that there are very few C answers in your list (assuming you’ve done a good job), the odds are increasingly high that more of the remaining answers will be C. Again, this assumes a lot of accuracy on your part; and again, nothing replaces legitimate study in preparation for these exams.

The Interview

Alright. So you’ve read our article, aced the entrance exams, and told everybody how awesome United Trades is. But something’s missing. Right! You still have to convince the union to accept you! Here’s how. Other than being early, and dressing nicely, there are several things you should know about a union interview.

Questions are going to be a mixture of informal (relating to your hobbies, physical activity, etc.), academic (relating to the skills you were tested for, or your academic records), and political (relating to your views on unions, and your interest in them).

In the informal category, it pays to highlight the features of yourself that match the trade. When asked how active you are, the interviewer is REALLY asking “Can your body hold up during a tough work day?” When asked what your hobbies are, the interviewer is REALLY asking “What skills do you have?”.

If you’re looking to fit a mold, here it is: You don’t smoke, you lift weights twice a week, and like going running sometimes. When bored, you take on projects like fixing appliances and working on things around the house (Like basic plumbing, carpentry, etc.), and you want to learn this trade because it fascinates you, you love doing it, and would love to make a career out of your passion for it.

Ideally, this would all be true. But we’re not going to sue you for copy/pasting it into your responses. For academics the focus will be on the grades, courses, and certifications you submitted when you applied to the union. If you didn’t submit anything special (like college courses, technical certifications, or awesome high school grades), you need to think of something to say here.

One great way to minimize a “lack of paper” in your profile is to show current knowledge of the trade you’re interested in. Pick up a book, study the crap out of it, and do a couple of projects. If you sound well informed and comfortable talking about the field you’re interested in, it can go a long way towards taking the focus off of your lack of “official education”.

If your grades in school weren’t very good, or if you’ve had large numbers of absences in your academic history; you will need to make a case for why you are a better student today. The interviewer will be very concerned about these things (for all the reasons we mentioned above), and you will have to explain why the apprenticeship will be a different story for you.

In the realm of political questions, there are a few which reign supreme. Perhaps the biggest one being “Why do you want to join a union?”. Obviously, we all have our own reasons; but the one reason you should NEVER give is “Because I want more money”. Taking this as your answer dishonors the organization you’re applying to, and it neglects the astounding training programs, extreme brotherhood, and wonderful support structure unions possess.

The second political question tends to be much easier. “Do you vote?” In this case the interviewer is making sure that you value your constitutional right to participate in elections. Unions are highly political organizations, and it is incredibly important that their various members be politically involved as well. The interviewer wants to know if you’re a team player when it comes time to vote, and you could earn some real bonus points here by talking politics (provided that you know what you’re talking about.).

If at first you don’t succeed:

Getting into a union can be hard work, although not for the same reasons most would imagine. You need to be smart, talented, and dedicated to learning the trade you’ve chosen. Should you not succeed in your first attempt at application, come back and try again. Believe it or not, it means a lot when a union sees an applicant making the effort to get in. In many cases, special consideration is even made for those applicants which have been through the process before. With hard work, and serious preparation, there is no reason why you can’t be a proud member of your favorite local union.

Union Application Primer

This primer was designed to gauge your readiness for union application exams. Consistent success in this primer implies that you are prepared for the union application process. Get ready, and good luck!



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