Jamie Joseph says of her job, “It’s like putting icing on a cake.” She should know: she got into drywall after 10 years as a cake decorator. She moved into construction trades after a divorce. “I ended up in a position where I needed to take care of myself,” she said. “I needed to be me, and make this work for me.”
After starting her apprenticeship in 2004, Joseph was just qualifying as a journeyworker when the recession hit. “I bounced around for a couple of years. I was fortunate to be able to impress the contractor I worked for and keep my job.”
Although she calls herself a taper, Joseph explained, “What I do is the taping, finishing and sanding of the drywall. The carpenters put the drywall on the wall. It’s a tough job. I run the hawk and trowel. Most women use pan and knife.”
The hawk is a 16-inch-square metal platform that holds a mound of drywall compound. “I was entranced by one of my co-workers — I loved the way his flow worked with the hawk and trowel. A couple years into my apprenticeship, I switched over. My peers would say, ‘The speed is going to come. Just get the first part down.’ It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a good five years to understand what your comfort zone is.”
Is the job market coming back in construction trades?
Last summer things started coming back. This will be the prime year. They’re already asking for extra tapers. They’re scrambling to get apprentices. Half of our work crew is 50 and above.
What’s the best part of your job as a taper?
Looking back at the finished product and being proud of what you’ve just done. You can walk into the building and say, “Look, I worked on it.” A lot of times as a taper you walk out and it’s still only half done. Then you come back and say, “Oh, they did this?” Every architect has their own design. It’s fun to see.
What’s your favorite project so far?
The funnest job was Gopher Stadium. It was cold — they were laying block in 30-degree weather. I learned a lot from it. My project manager allowed me to grow quite a bit. I was fortunate for that.
What’s the hardest part of the job?
It’s hard on the body. I’m not going to lie to anybody. You’re working in cold and heat. You go home with some sore muscles sometimes. I do my yoga. Stretching is the most important thing. You start out stiff, it’s not going to work very well for you.
What’s the benefit of being a union member?
Your pay is much better. You’ve got insurance. Most of the union contractors, you’ve got good people working alongside you. You don’t have to worry about safety factors. You have continuous upgrade training that’s all free of charge. A lot of other places will charge you — the OSHA 30 is offered online for $300. You can go to the union hall and take it for free, and they have the boom, scaffolding, and scissors lift.
What’s your career plan?
I’m comfortable with the journeyman role. I’d like to go back to school for some architecture design. If the bottom falls out again, I’ll have something to fall back on.