Anti 9-to-5 profile: Tami St. Paul

March 12th, 2007

A cat, a dog... what more could a girl want?The anti 9-to-5er: Tami St. Paul, Western Washington (featured in The Anti 9-to-5 Guide!)

My job: I am an apprenticeship coordinator for the Operating Engineers Regional Training Program of Western and Central Washington state. I get to tell people about the great opportunity of apprenticeship, where you can actually earn a living while learning a challenging career working with heavy equipment. Our apprenticeship offers great starting wages as well as health and pension benefits.

I started my apprenticeship in 1987 after working in construction generally in 1986 and seeing that I wanted to become a heavy equipment operator. I have never looked back. I learned early in life that I love to be outdoors and I love the emotional satisfaction of having something tangible to show for my day’s work. This career has satisfied both the need of my psyche to have the work environment that keeps me happy and the financial satisfaction and security of having a family living wage, great benefits, and a retirement plan for the future through working in a union construction workforce.

Oh yeah, and the competitive side of me likes that nobody is trying to pay me less than my male counterparts for doing the same work, as is often seen out in the other world. Women statistically still earning 75 cents to the man’s dollar, that would bug me daily.

What makes my gig anti 9-to-5: The work of a heavy equipment operator is done outdoors in all kinds of weather. It is also done less when the weather is inclement. With proper financial planning, these “off” times are a great time to pursue other hobbies and interests — mine have been family, skiing, snowmobiling, crafting, reading, and traveling. In the summer, I work a lot of hours, and I keep a very flexible social schedule as I may be called upon, with short or no notice, to work overtime to get something critical on the job done. This has its up side as the overtime (paid at time-and-a-half to double-time) provides extra income to save for a rainy day or splurge as a reward for my efforts, and it also provides a satisfaction in the teamwork effort to reach a goal point on a project so that the next phase can begin.

I HAD to seek work in a nontraditional field. I had worked in an office environment and retail and was not well-suited to those industries. From cursing every morning as I fought those blasted pantyhose and their infernal runs to the whole having to spend a beautiful day indoors — the nose prints on the outdoor-facing windows were, I’m sure, problematic for my employers as well. I just had to find some way to be outdoors and find the emotional and financial satisfaction I craved in my work life.

I ran equipment for about 14 years, then moved into a position where I help other people find their career path working with heavy equipment. This requires more office time than I was accustomed to and a learning curve to succeed at my new duties, but the rewards are spectacular. I remember the relief I felt at finding this great career, and I find tremendous satisfaction in helping others to do the same. I still get to be outdoors as I do job site visits with the apprentices to check on their on-the-job training experience and progress, as well as get to work at the training center with the instructors and equipment there. It is really a great gig I have going now.

What I did in my former 9-to-5 life: I started my apprenticeship in heavy equipment when I was in my early 20s. The jobs I had to compare to choose my career path ranged from being a river rafting guide in the summer (which I highly recommend, except for the lack of pay and benefits) and being a ski instructor and chair lift operator (also great, if not great-paying jobs) and working in Alaska on a fish processor (hard work, decent pay, amazing scenery and travel opportunity) to working retail, managing a retail establishment, working in a dorm cafeteria at college, and office work intermittently (none of which were my bag). Oh, almost forgot, shudder — I waited tables for a day — definitely not my gig!

As far as length of time I did each job, they were summer and during breaks from school or part-time while attending school until I ditched the college route as it was also too indoor-oriented and seemed to point me towards outdoor work that was not well-compensated in the pay or benefits categories, though it looked like fun.

How I made the anti 9-to-5 leap: I started my anti 9-to-5 leap as punishment from my father who got me a job working construction as a way to send my little red wagon screaming back to college to get a “real” job. The world may need ditch diggers (see “Caddyshack”), but he figured I wasn’t destined to be one of them. WRONG! I still have to smile at how his plan backfired so badly for him. I was making more money than I had ever in my life as the lowliest helper and material handler on the job site, working hard enough to drop my freshman 15 and sophomore 10, and loving every minute of being out of doors and watching the progress on something I was helping to build.

I took the opportunity to look around that construction site and see what really excited me. I really was interested in the equipment. I’d always liked to drive and that stuff looked like great fun. Having just dropped out of college and kicking around in temp jobs for a year, I got hooked up with an apprenticeship preparatory organization that is grant-funded to help recruit and train and retain women in the construction industry (there is incredible demand in the industry for women who like to be outdoors and build things).

I wanted to look at all my options and make an informed decision about my career path. I found this training reinforced my original goal of working with heavy equipment, though it offered me a chance to check out all kinds of other interesting and challenging careers in the building and construction industry. Then I applied to the apprenticeship program and the rest, as they say, is history.

My biggest obstacles: My biggest obstacles were that this was not the dream of my family. I was to be a veterinarian, by golly, or at least a professional person of some sort. I had to work hard and talk hard to convince my people that this work is my calling. The first day in training on a large bulldozer, there was like this neon banner running through my head that said, “I was born to do this, this is so fun!” I wore a big grin on my face the whole time I was on that first piece of equipment.

Eventually my dedication and enthusiasm won the day and my family and friends gave their blessings. My father is rolling in his grave laughing at how I’ve had to pull all my resources together to move into this new place I’m in in my career path where I kind of help keep the whole apprenticeship thing running. He’d be proud of me as are the rest of my family now.

Whatever you are going to be, work to be the best. The values I learned at home about work ethic and personal ethic really prepared me to be a success in this industry, and I am grateful that my family made me fight for and think about and examine where MY career path would take me.

My tips for other cubicle expats: I really found a lot of very good advice, ideas, and planning strategies all laid out in Michelle’s book. She has done much of the research for you. If you are specifically construction craft worker bound, my best advice for you is, save up some money to keep beans on the table and make ends meet. Then bail out of the cube and into a gig where you get to work outdoors, do volunteer work building something for someone in need, go to one of those apprenticeship preparatory places, get a job as a landscaper, knock on doors till someone opens one or you find one you can break down. Keep trying, people often will eventually give you a shot if you show your earnest interest.

Try it out to make sure you will get what you need out of it. Construction is a huge growth industry at this time in history, projected to grow nationwide 13 percent over the next six years and also about to experience a need to replace 30 percent of our workforce that are retiring baby boomers. If you find you like it, choose what you like best and go for it. Jump in with both feet — if you don’t get into your chosen trade’s apprenticeship the first time, be persistent, talk to the people doing the selection process, find out what the holdup is, respectfully request advice on what you can do to improve your chances to get into the program, or find out where you were lacking and fix it. Then follow through, be detail oriented, provide all requested documentation, and see where you wind up.

What’s that link again? The website for our apprenticeship is oetraining.com. You can find information on all apprenticeships in Washington state at lni.wa.gov. (Go to Trades and Licensing and then proceed to the Apprenticeship area.) Best wishes finding what you need to have your worklife be as satisfying as possible.

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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