Hi, my name is Sam Sylvester, and I am an 18 year old high schooler attending Avalon Charter School. I have been an apprentice at Urban Boatbuilders for 5 months now. I learned about Urban Boatbuilders when they visited my school to present the program, and applied immediately. I followed up very frequently and persistently, calling and emailing them multiple times. Unfortunately, I was turned down, because I lived outside the twin cities, and this was a policy at the time. However, in fall of 2014 this policy was dropped, and Phil (my boss), remembering me by my earlier persistence, contacted me about the apprentice position. We set up an interview date, and it went quite smoothly. Soon after, I was hired. When I began, we were in a much smaller workshop, with barely over 1,000 square feet, and only 4 apprentices per crew. However, after 2 months, we moved from that shop to our current one, which is 5,000 square feet. And with a larger shop came more apprentices, with both crews now being about one dozen apprentices in size.
Now that I’ve brought you up to speed with the situation at Urban Boatbuilders, I’d like to explain how it has helped me and other apprentices. The first and most obvious benefit is woodworking experience. Before joining Urban Boatbuilders, I had never done any real woodworking, and had no preexisting knowledge. But after 5 months working here, I am now very competent with a number of tools, and I’ve developed a very good understanding of different woodworking techniques and construction styles. Not only have I learned the skills I’ve been taught directly, but I can now improvise and self-teach. You can give me a task relating to woodworking, even if I’ve never done before, and as a result of my experience here I can easily determine with no help or instruction what tools will be needed and what steps to take. This ability is not unique to me amongst the apprentices. Rather, every other apprentice in the program has demonstrated this kind of learned ingenuity.
The second, and in my opinion, most important skill learned here is the ability to successfully navigate a workplace environment. For many apprentices, this position is their first job, and many of them don’t really come into the program understanding how any aspects of employment really work. Fortunately, Urban Boatbuilders provides a constructive environment in which mistakes are learned from, rather than punished. If an apprentice were to misbehave or waste time, they are informed as to the problems they are creating, and if they stop the behavior they are not punished, whereas in a traditional workplace they might be fired on the spot. This helps apprentices prevent themselves from making the same mistakes in a job where it could cost them dearly, while also helping teach them the technical aspects of how pay works. Urban Boatbuilders also does an excellent job of teaching apprentices how to build positive and functional relationships with their coworkers and overseers.