Inspiring By Any Measure
Cement mason, hockey coach, fitness competitor, single mom – those are all roles Kate Zelko has in her life. Sometimes all in the same day. When you consider she often commutes from her home in Sauk Rapids to jobs in the Metro area, one wonders how she does it in a 24 hour day.
A kinesiology major at Augsburg University, after college she decided she wanted to work outside and do something physical. She actually started in the trade by answering an ad on Craig’s List for a non-union company. “I had a son and needed to make money,” she said. While working non-union on a Ryan Companies job, she was approached about joining the union. She thought the pay and benefits were hard to beat.
Being a woman in a male dominated industry didn’t intimidate her. Rather it challenged her. “I challenged myself to hang with the boys,” she explained. “In the union the men have treated me absolutely great. They are just like my brothers. When I worked non-union, it wasn’t so hot.”
Brian Farmer, Apprenticeship Coordinator at Cement Masons Local 633, recognized her commitment to the trade and hired her as a teacher at the cement masons training center. He needed someone to represent the female side of the industry, someone who could be a guide to the ever-increasing role of women in the industry. Added Zelko, “It’s been exciting working with apprentices, particularly in the role of a female mentor. For single moms like me or just women going it alone, through me I hope they realize it’s not just a man’s job. They can do it too.”
Holiday Apprentice Training: Concrete Christmas 2021
At this time of year the cement masons and plasterers apprentices from Local 633 turn their indoor training center floor in New Brighton, Minn., into a winter wonderland. The theme of this year’s Concrete Christmas project was “Christmas at a Northern Lodge” which featured a dual fireplace with a 15-foot chimney. “Everything we are doing here has a real world application,” explained Brian Farmer, Apprenticeship Coordinator of Local 633 Journeyman and Apprentice JATC Training Center. “While it has an educational function, it does show the artistic nature of what can be done with concrete and plaster.” As is the case every year, the work is divided up amongst the first, second and third year apprentices, because each group has a particular skill level. Construction started Mon., Nov. 8 and finished on Mon., Dec. 6.
Often referred to as “the other four year degree,” apprentice worked-based training is an “earn while you learn” system offering students a chance to learn from the most skilled construction workers in the U.S. They start as apprentices and graduate as journey workers, a critical talent pipeline building future American infrastructure.
Nowhere is the need for more apprentices and journey workers in the to load the pipeline more acute than in the cement masons trade. There are only 1,000 cement masons in Minnesota. “The demand is huge,” said Farmer. “Even during the pandemic in 2020, we had 1.4 million worker hours that year. That’s an incredible amount of work.”