Apprentice draws on her past experience

Third-year Local 12 apprentice Kerri Reppucci took an interesting journey into the industry. 

For nine years she was a mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) coordinator and developed blueprints for commercial construction projects. Now Reppucci is on crews doing the kind of plumbing that she once designed. Her background gives her a unique perspective among apprentices.

Unlike many people who find their way to Local 12, Reppucci didn’t know anybody who was a plumber or worked in other construction trades, nor was she exposed to or had any inclination to join the industry as she was growing up. She knew the owner of EHK Adjorlolo & Associates, a building information modeling (BIM) services company based in Norwood, who hired her soon after she graduated high school and trained her in all aspects of virtual design and construction.

The learning curve was steep, but Reppucci became proficient as an MEP coordinator and developed drawings using computer-aided design (CAD). She simultaneously learned about plumbing, mechanical, electrical, and fire protection systems as well as the overall building trades industry. “In time, I ran coordination meetings,” Reppucci says. She recalls sitting across the table from GBPCA contractors such as E. M. Duggan and Valante Mechanical.

While she enjoyed the work, Reppucci says she eventually wanted to change careers and began thinking about being on the other side of the construction industry. An avid equestrian and an active, outdoorsy person, she sometimes found it a struggle to sit behind a computer and be confined to an office. “When I went to job sites, I loved being out there,” recalls Reppucci.

Interestingly, it was her boss who helped steer her away from his company. He would often talk to Reppucci about her personal five-year plan and encouraged her to envision where she saw herself. She realized she wanted to explore a career in the construction trades.

Coincidentally, Reppucci met a plumber who discovered the MEP coordination work she did and asked her if she ever though about getting into the field. When she expressed interest, he offered her a part-time position working for him on Saturdays. For about a year, Reppucci learned the basics of plumbing on residential service jobs.

“I liked it from the start,” she says. Reppucci decided to actively pursue becoming a full-time plumber. “It was scary to switch careers. But I knew I had to pull the trigger.”

She applied to Local 12, but didn’t initially get in. The plumber with whom she had been working on Saturdays offered her an apprenticeship position and she took it, although Reppucci says that she didn’t give up on her dream to get into the union. She knew the pay would be better as well as the benefits such as health insurance and a pension. She also knew that Local 12-affiliated contractors did the type of large-scale projects on which she wanted to work.

In 2018, Reppucci reapplied and was accepted into Local 12. She has been working for American Plumbing and Heating on projects such as a new Children’s Hospital building and the expansion of TD Garden’s concourse.

“When I first started, it was so exciting,” she enthuses. “It was almost surreal. I would ask myself, ‘Is this happening?’ ”

Reppucci says her many years as an MEP coordinator have been serving her well. Her ability to look at drawings and know exactly what they mean has helped her on the job. At the same time, she adds, she is learning a different side of plumbing that she couldn’t get in an office.

“Pipe is much easier to manipulate in your hands than in a drawing,” Reppucci notes.

She is currently on the American crew at the mixed-use development known as Parcel K in Boston’s Seaport district. The 500,000-square-foot project includes a 12-story residential building with 304 apartments and a 12-story Hyatt Place hotel with 294 rooms. Parcel K will also include an underground parking garage, office space, and ground-level retail shops and restaurants. Reppucci is working on the hotel side of the project.

Before she came to Local 12, Reppucci had taken classes for open-shop apprentices. She says that the union’s training center, which emphasizes hands-on opportunities in its shops, is a completely different experience. Whereas before, she mostly sat at a desk and read along as teachers lectured, now she is putting theory into practice.

“We’re doing things that help me really understand plumbing,” says Reppucci. “I’m a tactile learner. I need to do it to understand it. The instructors are great.”

When she gets older, Reppucci says that she may want to return to MEP coordination. But for now she is thrilled to be learning a trade that she loves. She looks forward to a long career and says that she is bullish on the plumbing industry.

“People will always need water, sinks, toilets, and heat,” explains Reppucci. “The trade won’t go away.” 

UA members at Tradeswomen Build Nations 2019

Local 12 members attend Tradeswomen Build Nations conference

North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) presented its ninth annual Tradeswomen Build Nations conference in October, and seven Local 12 members, led by training center instructor Kim Garside, participated in the three-day conference. The largest gathering of union tradeswomen in the world, the event presented speakers and workshops that covered topics such as apprenticeship, recruitment, mentoring other women, mental and physical health, safety, getting involved in union leadership, balancing family and work, and financial planning.

“It’s like a pep rally for women in the trades,” is how Local 12 apprentice Kerri Reppucci described the event. “It was great for me to see so many women in the industry.”

Mirroring the rapid rise of women joining the ranks of Local 12 as well as construction trades in the region and across North America, the Tradeswomen Build Nations conference has been growing dramatically. Garside says that in the three years the she has been going to the event, it has nearly doubled in attendance from year to year. The 2019 conference had close to 4,000 women representing all of the union trades, including electrical workers, carpenters, and bricklayers, along with plumbers and gasfitters. The United Association (UA), Local 12’s parent organization, had 400 members alone from the U.S. and Canada.

Among the workshops Reppucci attended was one about preventing and addressing sexual harassment and another about understanding and protecting retirement benefits.

“It can be intimidating as a women to get into the trades,” the third-year apprentice says, adding that the information she was able to learn at the event was helpful. Reppucci notes that the camaraderie and solidarity she experienced at the conference was equally empowering.

Garside especially enjoyed a presentation about how local unions can build and nurture women’s committees. The instructor has chaired a Local 12 group comprised of women members for a few years and says that she was able to bring back some great ideas for the group.

Both of the women have seen the industry evolve firsthand. “It’s a different dynamic today,” says Garside, noting that women were few and far between when she began her career. “More support and resources are available for women today, which is a great thing.”

Reppucci, who began working as a CAD designer 12 years ago, recalls that she rarely saw women in the trades back then. “Now, it’s a different story,” she says. “Yes, it can be rough and taxing on your body. But women should not be afraid.”

The Tradeswomen Build Nations attendees had opportunities to break out and gather with other members of their trade. The UA presented a luncheon for its members. Garside says the organization has done a great job promoting the event and encouraging locals to send their members to the conference.

As evidenced by the growth and success of the conference, what was once a non-traditional career path for women is becoming more conventional. Does Reppucci have any advice for women considering getting into the industry? “Go for it!” she says. “If it’s for you, you’ll do really well.”