My Story: Gaining Skills and Experience as an Apprentice Electrician at LAX

For the past year and a half, ­­I’ve had the great fortune of working on the new addition to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In the first two years of my electrical apprenticeship with IBEW Local 11, I worked on small jobs for small shops that had a very limited scope of work, so there weren’t very many aspects of the trade I had exposure to, much to my disappointment. 

I was enormously frustrated with my limited experience. I would dream of working on a large, “class A” construction site for a good union shop that would afford me experience and training in more aspects of our field. But after a couple of years in the trade, based on the tales I’d heard from old-timers who worked in Los Angeles during the construction boom following the Northridge earthquake in the 90s, it seemed like a pipe dream. There just weren’t that many large construction projects going on in Los Angeles anymore, and those that were always seemed to be on the opposite end of the city from where I reported to work.

A little over two years ago, I went to work for a large union outfit with outlets all over the country, so the potential for working on larger projects seemed more likely. Although I worked on mainly small- to medium-sized jobs with them, I heard the rumors regarding the enormous size of the new construction project at LAX. I hesitated to get my hopes up since most things you hear on the job from other construction workers turn out to fall pretty far short from the truth. Then one day in early September of 2011, I was transferred.

I’ll never forget the feeling when I reported to the job site that very first day. I had to park a couple of miles away from the airport in a parking lot reserved for construction workers, where we boarded a bus that shuttled us to a security gate bordering the airfield. From there we disembarked, walked through a high security checkpoint, where we each badged in and passed through turnstiles, and then boarded a second bus on the airfield that would drop us off at our job site. 

At this stage of the project, I was the 18th worker from my company to report to this site. Since then, more than a hundred have come and gone. As I got off the bus and took in my surroundings, my breath caught in my throat. I found myself standing on a mound of dirt looking out over a sea of workers, back hoes, forklifts, aerial work platforms, mountains of steal hundreds of feet long, concrete trucks, piles of material from every trade imaginable and four fully erected and functioning tower cranes. I was shaking with excitement.

I was fortunate to land on this project while still an apprentice because I’ve had the opportunity to work on an enormous variety of tasks throughout the span of the project’s development, on all seven floors for several different foremen, affording me a very well-rounded experience. As we reach the final weeks of the job, I find myself reflecting on the past year and a half, and as I walk around the nearly completed building I can’t help but feel a deep-rooted sense of pride at having taken part in such a historical project. I look forward to flying in and out of the new terminal for the rest of my life and smiling to myself as I remember walking out onto that mound of dirt and trembling in awe at the enormity of it all.