Building the next generation of union carpenters
Walter Hofner, retired Local 1382 carpenter from Rochester, Minn., lives by a simple philosophy: Help everyone you can.
“That’s part of your job when you’re running jobs — to help. Not just to tell people I want this done or that done,” Walter said.
As a supervisor working for Benike Construction at Mayo Clinic, Walter had plenty of opportunities throughout his career to give the men and women on his crews a helping hand. Walter would go the extra mile to provide skill-building opportunities and to put in a good word with ownership for individuals on his crews.
“What made me do that for all my guys was when I first came to the Carpenters [Union] in Rochester, I saw a lot of these older guys and they wouldn’t teach [apprentices] nothing,” he said. “They were all afraid for their jobs. People had always given me breaks along the way, and I wanted to do the same.”
One apprentice Walter met in the early 1980s was Rich Bakken. Walter immediately recognized Rich’s potential. “Rich had a sound head on his shoulders and if he didn’t understand he would ask,” he recalled. Walter’s guidance helped Rich hone his skills and prove himself as a reliable and skilled carpenter. When he had the chance, Walter put in a good word for Rich with Benike’s owner, reassuring him that, despite his young age, Rich had the skills and experience to run his own jobs.
It’s okay to make mistakes if you learn from them
Rich gives Walter a lot of credit for getting him started in his construction career. “He took me under his wing, guided me, and put me in position to do above-grade stuff. Walter was able to recognize people who were putting in extra effort and put you in a position to give you a chance to succeed.”
Now a superintendent with Benike, Rich identifies talent by creating a work environment where questions are encouraged and mistakes are used as learning opportunities. He believes the individual’s reaction to a mistake, and if they can figure out how to fix it, is more telling than the actual mistake. “The most important thing is they make a decision. No one is ever going to make all the right decisions, so the biggest fault is to not do anything,” he said.
In this way, Rich carries on Walter’s philosophy. “You guide them,” he says of younger carpenters beginning their careers. “And understand that not everyone is at the same level. It’s not hard to see who excels — the product is good and they bring you questions.”
We all benefit when we help each other succeed
Jerid Ramaker, another Local 1382 member, earned a degree in architecture, but after a year working in a cabinet shop found he enjoyed building more than drafting. Jerid eventually found his way onto one of Rich’s crews working a big job and was able to distinguish himself through hard work and genuine interest in the project. “He did well, so I took him to the next job,” Rich recalls.
Now that Jerid is also a superintendent, he’s living by the same pay-it-forward philosophy with his crew. “Now that I’m in this position, I can recognize the position Rich was in when he helped me,” he said. “I always asked a lot of questions and was never afraid to try stuff on my own. He could obviously recognize that and was always willing to help me out.”
As a superintendent, Jerid understands he’s only as successful as the people around him and is always on the lookout for people willing to step up. He works with individuals on his crews to get them the experience they need to be successful and the opportunities they need to achieve their career goals.
“The more we can help each other succeed,” he noted, “the better and more solid we — our crew, the Union and the company — all just look.”
Walter, Rich and Jerid all recognize the important role mentoring and accepting a helping hand have played throughout their careers and are living out Walter’s “help as many as you can” philosophy.
“How we do our job says a lot about the Union and carpenters,” Walter explains. “We want people to have good feelings towards those things because it may make a difference with the contracts you get. We’re all in it together — if we fall apart, we all fall apart.”
Rich is quick to agree. “Construction is my life. I enjoy seeing young people come up and when I can tell this is what they’re going to do with their lives. If you care about construction and building, you’ve got to keep bringing young people up.”
Walter, Rich and Jerid’s tips for mentorship
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