Philly trades unions show off skill and efforts to improve diversity at open house

Apprentice Priscilla Torres (center, in red) stands with (left to right) Councilmember Cherelle Parker, Carpenters Union Head William Sproule and Ryan Boyer, who runs the Building Trades Council. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Apprentice Priscilla Torres (center, in red) stands with (left to right) Councilmember Cherelle Parker, Carpenters Union Head William Sproule and Ryan Boyer, who runs the Building Trades Council. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

An open house in Northeast Philadelphia gave the young apprentices in the building trades an opportunity to show off their work and highlighted the trade unions’ efforts to diversify their memberships.

The Carpenters Training Center served as the backdrop for the event, with some political leaders taking a tour of the students’ work. Among them was Priscilla Torres who admits she’s doing a non-traditional job.

“I’m definitely one of the only girls a lot of time,” Torres said. “It’s nice to kind of prove that girls are capable of doing anything the guys can do, too.”

Apprentice Priscilla Torres peering through the wall she built. (Tom MacDonald, WHYY)
  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Torres said she wasn’t made to work a traditional office job, adding that working with her hands and standing for extended periods of time is the perfect career for her.

Another apprentice, Miles Collier, is in his second year of a four-year program. He was sanding away at wall art that had just been painted in order to show the contrast between the wood and paint. He believes diversity in the building trades is increasing.

“I never really think about color that much. When I’m in this trade, I mostly think about, just how to get this done. It’s a lot of brotherhood.”

Miles Collier working on wood art. (Tom MacDonald, WHYY)
  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Collier hopes to continue learning and eventually become a member of the building trades.

The apprenticeship program is a way to give people life-sustaining employment, said Ryan Boyer, who was elected to head up the Building Trades Council after the resignation of long-time union official John Dougherty

The union uses virtual reality to train apprentices on how to ”walk the beams” high up at a construction site. (Tom MacDonald, WHYY)

“Once they finish here, they finish their apprenticeship, they are journeymen,” Boyer said. The skills they learn are in high demand with construction underway throughout the city, he said.

Unlike most college education, “there is no debt. You have health care fully paid for and a pension. You can’t beat the unions,” “Boyer said.

Miles Collier is a second year apprentice. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

Get the WHYY app!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal