Proves that college doesn’t guarantee a career; building trades skills do
By ED FINKELSTEIN
To those parents who feel their child has to go to college to be successful, meet Sprinkler Fitters Local 268 veteran member Sean O’Connor, living proof that going into the building trades as a career is something to consider if college is not your child’s thing.
O’Connor, 49, majored in illustration and graphic design in college. After graduation he went to work at a local design studio. But as computers became the new standard, after 11 years of experience, the company laid him off, telling him they could hire three interns (with no benefits or health insurance) right out of college doing computer aided design for what they were paying him.
Today, seniority, and quite often skill, doesn’t necessarily apply in the business world’s often “bottom line mentality,” as O’Connor discovered.
He began sending out resumes but everyone wanted him to start at the bottom of the pay scale despite his great experience. Again, low pay labor from college graduates was the competition.
So he went to work as a part-time instructor at Florissant Valley Community College teaching illustration and graphic design.
But they weren’t hiring full-time teachers so when his brother-in-law, a sprinkler fitter, told him the union’s apprenticeship program was looking for candidates (and he would never have to send out a resume again looking for a job). So he applied, was accepted, and now 16 years later, O’Connor has a steady paycheck and great benefits as a skilled union sprinkler fitter.
O’Connor often tells people he has four college degrees and he “turns wrenches for a living.” When people ask him why sprinkler fitting, his response is straight forward: “Because it pays well, I get to work with my hands, it’s relatively outdoors, and they let me play with implements of destruction.”
USES HIS TALENT TO FREELANCE
Not losing his entrepreneurial spirit, while continuing his career as a sprinkler fitter, O’Connor puts his graphic skills to use through his freelance illustration and graphic design business — SOS Illustration and Design.
“College can be a crapshoot,” O’Connor noted. “It’s difficult to predict what jobs will be available in the future in a world mostly based on speculation. Mine is the perfect example. But you should not limit yourself as knowledge and skills are the key to success.” (PUBLISHER’S NOTE: At least 80 percent of my college friends are NOT working in their college-prepared career fields.)
O’Connor added: “I don’t want to deter anyone from seeking a college education, but it just might not be for them.”
LOTS OF SKILLED TRADESMEN NEEDED
“The reality is that the building trades are going to need tens of thousands of new craftsmen in the coming years as our older members retire,” said Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building Trades Council.
“Too often, young men and women aren’t cut out for college, they want to go to work out of high school and work with their hands as well as their brains. The building trades are the perfect place for them. They’ll learn a great skill, get the best training in the world that will allow them to work anywhere in America, a skill that can’t be outsourced overseas!
“Parents should be honest with themselves and their kids: college is certainly good, but it’s not always the right thing for everyone. A construction career is something to be proud of!” he added with pride, himself an operating engineer, member of Operating Engineers Local 513.
LABOR TRIBUNE DISCOVERY
Our readers have enjoyed his Christmas illustrations for our labor charity special sections, and other dynamic editorial illustrations ever since. His illustrations won a First Award for illustrations in the International Labor Communications Association media contest.
If you have a need for graphic design from a talented union brother, you can reach Sean at 636-262-8443 or his email – firstname.lastname@example.org. See the breadth of his skills at his website at sosillustration.com.
COMMITTED POLITICAL FAMILY
If you’re a political junkie and the name O’Connor sounds familiar, it’s no wonder.
O’Conner comes from a committed and talented family in Missouri politics.
Two uncles were extremely powerful and productive for working people: Bob Young (D), was the beloved 2nd District U.S. Representative for five terms and was a Missouri state representative and senator for a total of 14 years before going to Washington; Pat Hickey was a 30-member of the Missouri House of Representatives, serving as its Speaker for 16 of those years. All three men were members of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562.
Why didn’t he go into politics coming from such a committed political family?
“I’m kind of a loose cannon when it comes to politics and I often speak my mind, and that’s not good in the political arena. In today’s world politicians often have to be unscrupulous, so I chose to go in a different career direction,” O’Connor said with a smile in his voice, adding:
“If Donald Trump ends up in the White House will have to pay the top 1% just to go to work.”
As a mark of his skill as an artist, Sprinkler Fitters 268 member Sean O’Connor’s entry into the 2012 U.S. Olympic Sport and Art Contest was selected as one of three entries to represent the United States in international competition.
Described by the judges as an “emerging artist,” his 40×30 painting Focusing on the Gold featured a collage of former Olympic athletes along with the London landmark and a fireworks display.
His work competed with entries from 48 other nations. While it was not selected as the final winner, just being in the finals with his first entry is a major accomplishment to be honored.