Ever since childhood, Abigail Leighton has always enjoyed building things and working with her hands. This interest is what led Abigail, who has called Austin home since 2002, to the skilled trades and a budding career as an electrician.
Before entering the trades, Abigail worked in the food service industry but realized her opportunities were limited. She sought work that would pay well and help build a productive life.
“I needed to find a career path that would earn me a respectable, livable income without taking out massive student loans,” Abigail said. “I searched online for jobs that make lots of money without a college degree. Several trade jobs appeared in my search and I knew that was what I needed to do in order to improve my life and stop living paycheck to paycheck.”
Abigail called Brian Peabody, the training coordinator at Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 286, to ask about applying for an apprenticeship. “I explained why I wanted to join a local union and he told me I should take the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum class to help me along,” said Abigail.
Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) is a nationally recognized, industry certificate that introduces students to the different building trades and teaches them the skills necessary to successfully apply for a registered apprenticeship, debt-free. MC3 is a standardized, comprehensive, 120-hour construction course designed to help young people and transitioning adults choose and succeed in apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades that are appropriate for them.
Abigail enrolled in the two-week program and took her training in July 2020. The students received their OSHA-10 certification, First Aid/CPR training, learned to read blueprints and, best of all, got jobs upon graduation.
“I think my true passion may actually be with the union itself. Trade jobs have given me a lot of confidence and useful skills. Local unions are something very special and I believe they have the ability to continue empowering women like myself.”
“I think the program is really special and gives people a good look into the trades, and what it means to be part of a union. I only wish they had the classes more often so I could start sending people I know to take it. Brian Peabody has really put a lot of time and effort into teaching MC3 and it is such a valuable experience,” Abigail said.
Meeting the people who work in all the local unions was an experience Abigail enjoyed. “It was such a unique experience to observe their jobs and see the passion for what they do. The program is run by good people who care about the success of others and it shows,” she said.
“I had a very skewed idea of what most tradespeople were like. I always assumed people were plumbers, or electricians, or ironworkers because their dads were—that they grew up learning to fix things and that they have always known how to use tools or work with their hands. That couldn’t be further from the truth! I was very tool illiterate when I first started my journey in this industry, and now I use power tools every day and own my own angle grinder,” said Abigail.
Abigail began working with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 520 on July 20.
“I was sold on being a plumber at first but then we took a tour of the electrician’s training facility and it started changing my mind. I thought the work they did looked very interesting and I kept finding myself considering it more and more at home after class,” she said.
“We did mock job interviews and Marc Pendleton from Local 520 was there. He was such a delight to sit down with and I really enjoyed our interview. The health benefits and retirement options with 520 were some of the best, and they have a picnic committee. What’s not to love?” Abigail said.
While her journey as a union apprentice has just begun, Abigail already knows her future lies in the trades.
“I want other women who felt like me to know that this is attainable and the union is there to help and support you along the way.”
“My short-term goal is to finish the five-year apprenticeship and become a journeyman—or journeywoman, if you will! After that, I may pursue a masters license to start my own business and employ other union members,” said Abigail.
“I think my true passion may actually be with the union itself. Trade jobs have given me a lot of confidence and useful skills. Local unions are something very special and I believe they have the ability to continue empowering women like myself,” she said.
“I have a new long-term goal and that is to show other women that they can do this too. Skilled trades may currently be a male-dominated industry, but it doesn’t have to be. Women make wonderful tradespeople and have so much to offer to this industry. The only thing holding women back from learning a trade is themselves,” said Abigail.
Marc Pendleton, Organizational Development Specialist for Local 520, agreed: “We encourage women to be electricians because they have great attention to detail. I learned the tricks of the trade 14 years ago from a great Journeywoman,” Marc said.
“We can think we aren’t tough enough, or strong enough, or knowledgeable enough—but that just isn’t true. I want other women who felt like me to know that this is attainable and the union is there to help and support you along the way.”
She added, “If you are willing to work hard and learn new things, the union and other tradespeople will teach you everything you need to know. Get ready to sweat and buy some nice gel insoles for your boots! Other than that, a good attitude is all you will need.”
Job training and the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum
Interested in pursuing a career with a union-based apprenticeship program? To learn more about trainings like MC3, go to the North America’s Building Trades Unions website.