Steve is a burly guy, 22, who attended to my home office in his construction clothes; he’s an apprentice electrician one year short of getting his papers. He is brother to Elizabeth and, as she and his mother had warned me, a man of few words. I was interested in including him, however, because he seemed typical of what I’ve come to think of as ‘country boys’, guys who feel they belong here and/or don’t manage or like urban life. Steve had ‘fun’ during a ‘year off’ in Middletown but commuted back home to work during that time, and returned home to drift into an apprenticeship that seems to suit him well. He purchased a home at 20 and has a roommate to help with the mortgage. He comes across as very measured and non-judgmental, and not very assertive. He said less than could be said about his difficulties with the apprenticeship system. His stepsister, Sally, is also a participant in this research.
FM: So, maybe start with telling a bit about the family you were raised in, who was in the family, where you lived, how they paid the rent, etc.
I lived just out side of Riverville with my sister, step-dad and mom. My mom is a hair-dresser as long as I’ve known, and my step-dad works maintenance at a large year-round camp. My sister is 2 years older than me and she works in a child care centre in the area.
FM: And your dad, do you have much contact with him?
Yeah, I talk to him probably more than I talk to my mother.
FM: And what does he do?
He does carpentry.
FM: And you’re in the process of doing an apprenticeship in the biz – what part of the business?
FM: So do you work with him at all?
FM: Okay, so raised in Riverville all your life, when did you start to think about whether or not you’d leave home?
Right out of high school I was gone, moved to Middletown, just down there with a buddy. Really didn’t do much. Wish I’d found a job before I moved down. Lived there for a year. Just for the experience, I guess...
FM: And how did you experience it?
I had lots of fun. Never found a job or anything so I didn’t stay.
FM: Were you looking for a job?
FM: And how were you paying the bills?
I worked a couple of days up here, stayed up here a couple of week nights, worked.
FM: And then went to Middletown to spend the money.
FM: And who were you living with there?
A friend from school.
FM: And what kind of living arrangements, apartment?
Just a basement apartment.
It was really nice place. Two bedroom, living room, big.
FM: And was your buddy working?
He was in school.
FM: So was it a party life or just enjoying–
It was a party life, that’s for sure.
FM: Why do you think you weren’t successful in getting a job then and there?
I’m not too sure. I handed out my resumes and nothing happened.
FM: What kind of work were you looking for?
Looking for anything, basically.
FM: And had you worked while you were in high school?
Yes, delivered furniture.
FM: So physical labour; nothing of that sort available in Middletown?
I applied for jobs, just never got them.
FM: So you delivered furniture here in order to afford the apartment there.
FM: Okay, so no job after a year, so what are you thinking then?
I moved back home.
FM: And that was a big disappointment or–
Yeah, moving back home was. I didn’t want to but I had to.
FM: So what was the plan then?
I didn’t really have a plan. I got into a better job and he offered me the apprenticeship, so…
FM: So what did you think you wanted to ‘be’ when you grew up? When you were younger? Or when you were thinking about what work to get?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to be. Knew I wanted to run machinery but I didn’t get into that. Got into electrical right away and found out I wanted to do that.
FM: So big machinery was the thought, but not much opportunity for that in Cottage County...
There was a lot of opportunity but I just never got out there and did what I wanted to do.
FM: And why? Shy? Lazy?
Nah, I just was sticking to the job I had. He treated me pretty good so I stayed there.
FM: And how did you luck into that job, at the beginning?
To the apprenticeship? My friend just called me and said this guy’s looking for a guy so I just called him and ended up getting into the electrical.
FM: Did your boss know you or know about you, who your family was, that kind of thing, or was this really–
I just met him when my buddy told me.
FM: Okay, so truly a ‘cold call’ but in this case negotiated by your buddy. But you must have impressed your boss for him to take you on. How’d you do that?
I just worked hard, showed him I could do it and willing to learn.
FM: Okay, so when you come back to Cottage County, you came back and lived with your mom?
FM: Paying room and board?
I didn’t have to pay anything.
FM: You still there?
FM: And how’d that work; how’d you ‘decide’ to move out?
I just enjoyed living on my own when I was out, and so I moved out shortly after, a year or two, living back here.
FM: And were your parents nudging you to move out, or would they have preferred you stay under their roof?
No, I could’ve stayed, they weren’t nudging me at all. I just didn’t enjoy living there – well, should say I just wanted to be on my own.
FM: Okay, so where did you move to?
I bought my own house – in the country.
FM: And how could you afford that
I have a decent-paying job; it was no different than if I was paying rent.
FM: Did you look for rental housing here in Cottage County?
No, I just sat down and decided the price range I had and what I could afford on my own.
FM: So owning your own home, is that important in itself, or is it just a smart business move?
It’s – I think it’s a good investment to get into it when I was young, get in early and start paying it off.
FM: Do you live alone?
I have a room-mate who rents off me.
FM: And how’s that work?
Works out good. I’ve known him for a long time.
FM: Can I ask for some numbers to put to this picture – like how much are you paid and how much your house, or maybe how much are your mortgage payments – like something that explains how a young guy just starting out can afford home ownership without the in-between step of renting.
My mortgage is about, with hydro and insurance, about $1200/month, so I manage my money so I can pay that off. And I have a room-mate who is helping me out.
FM: What’s he pay?
He pays $400/month. And he usually helps me out if I need it, but I’m usually fairly good with my money.
FM: And you each buy groceries separately?
Yeah, probably $40/week, usually just split the food.
FM: So you cook together?
Yeah, or if one of us cooks a meal, shares it with the other.
FM: And okay, talk about the apprenticeship, what it pays – just everything about it
I can’t remember how much it was when I started off, but each year it increases by $2/hr I believe.
FM: And you’re going into your third year?
Yeah, this’ll be my fourth year doing it. Just haven’t made it to school. You have five years to finish your apprenticeship.
FM: So generally you go to school for a–
FM: Each year, and the rest of the time, work, but have to get a certain number of hours–
–I believe it’s 9000
FM: Over the full 4 years.
Until you can write your electrical exam.
FM: Alright, so you’re four years in the job and in your third year of apprenticeship, so you have ‘missed’ one year? How’d that happen?
I just missed one year. Just bought the house and couldn’t afford to go to school.
FM: Because when you go to school, you don’t get paid, and you have related expenses, because you have to go away, right?
FM: Does your boss care how quickly or efficiently you complete your apprenticeship?
FM: Because as long as you don’t go to school, you’re a cheaper employee. But on the other hand, there are things you can’t do yet or things that you need to be supervised doing, I suspect; does that bother him at all?
No, he generally leaves me on his own when he has to do something. It’s just me and him who work together. He’s confident in just about everything I do, so…
FM: Is there somebody from the school or the apprenticeship ‘department’ that keeps track of where you’re at in this process?
Not 100% sure. I don’t hear much from the Apprenticeship department at all.
FM: Is that unusual? Do apprentices usually hear from that department?
I haven’t talked to anyone else about that, but they’ve never talked to me since I started. I’m pretty sure they’ve switched people that do it so they don’t let you know too much what’s going on.
FM: So your ‘case’ is perhaps assigned to a Apprenticeship ‘worker’ but they don’t keep a close eye on you, or they keep switching jobs and you get lost in the shuffle, maybe?
It’s pretty much how it seems.
FM: When you go to classes, are there the same guys each year? Is that a ‘gang’ that is sorta like ‘your year’?
I don’t think so. I didn’t go back the second.
FM: Right, so if there was, you’d have been out of step with them.
It would be basically the same people.
FM: Okay, so … do you think that the system works fairly well? It’s being touted as the solution to Canada’s lack of skilled workers – the apprenticeship system, this is – but it seems to me that it’s pretty hands-off, you’re pretty much on your own to get into the system and to make it work the way it’s supposed to. You strike me as someone who tends to go with the flow, not be too demanding, but are you satisfied that the system serves your needs?
I believe it does. I’m satisfied with it. It’s basically kept me out of debt. Going to college, I’d be right into debt out of high school. This way, I can work through the year and do my schooling in the off-season when you’re going to be laid off anyways.
FM: Talk about that a bit, the seasonal nature of your work.
Well, if I wasn’t going to school I would be working all year round. It’s just slower in the winter. When it’s slow, my boss doesn’t mind my going to school then; it’s easier.
FM: But there’d be enough work for both of you full-time year-round once you get your apprenticeship finished?
FM: Do you think he’d grow his business to take on someone else, since it’s keeping up to capacity as you become more available? Do you think the company you work for will get bigger over time?
I think so, but not too much bigger.
FM: And is that good, do you think, or would it be better for you as a worker if the company did grow?
I don’t think it would matter if it grew or not, I’d still have work with him.
FM: Lots of construction folks have said that business has slowed down the last couple of years but sounds like that’s not a problem with your boss. Right?
No, it’s not a problem at all. He keeps fairly busy all year around, so…
FM: And does he work small jobs, like houses, or bigger jobs?
Mostly just residential homes.
FM: Okay. When you went to high school, did you like it, were you a good student, do you think it prepared you well for working life?
I didn’t mind high school. Enjoyed it. Had fun. Wasn’t the best student. And no, I don’t think it prepared me for a working life. I’m more a hands-on person. Classroom is really not my thing.
FM: Did you do shop and stuff?
Yes, the wood shop and welding shop.
FM: Did that help at all you figuring out what you wanted to do?
No, it didn’t.
FM: Can you think of what might have helped you figure out what you wanted to do?
I knew I wanted to get into a trade, I just didn’t know which one yet.
FM: Did the school know you planned to get into a trade and did they do anything to help with that?
I don’t think they knew I was going to get into a trade. I never really said anything to them too much.
FM: What about the counseling folks there, whose job it is to help people get into appropriate post-sec or jobs – did they ever–
They were more hitting on the way to go into college.
FM: Did you get the sense that because they didn’t talk about how to get into trades, that that was somehow a not-very-good choice?
Um, I dunno. I thought a trade was – in fact I took a year off after school to decide what to do, I thought that going into a trade was a better thing to do than going into college.
FM: Where were your folks on this?
Well, they didn’t really know what I was going to do either because I was living away from home at the time.
FM: But did they make suggestions, or did they try to talk you into one way or another?
They never – they usually just let me only make my own decisions. I was making my own money at the time, so if I could pay the bills, they were fine.
FM: Okay. Let me go through my little check list: we’ve talked about employment, education – lemme ask, did you like anything about high school other than (not liking) classes, like sports or anything of that sort?
Yeah, football and hockey. Gym class.
FM: Do you still do that sort of sports?
Just play hockey.
FM: Okay, good, talk about how you like your life in the country. How satisfactory is it?
Up here, I love living up here. Rather be up here rather than down in the city. Just more of a – the cities just not a place for me. Just don’t fit in.
FM: What makes you say that? What makes you feel like you don’t fit in when you’re down there?
I dunno. Just the way I am, I guess. I dunno, I just find people in the city are different than the way we act up here.
FM: Can you say more? Okay… would you say you’re satisfied with your social life here?
Yeah. I still have a lot of friends who live up here, who never moved away. Everyone gets together on the weekend .
FM: What do you do when you get together?
Get together, have a couple drinks, go to the bar.
FM: Fish? Hunt? Ice-fish?
I do both. I like to ice-fish. 4-wheeling. Snowmobiling. Baseball – we all play that together.
FM: Are most of the guys in this gang as settled into work as you are?
Yes, a lot of them are.
FM: Construction work
Yes some are in construction. Some are social workers. Mostly construction.
FM: What social work in the county?
Community Living, stuff like that.
FM: And are – lemme see, you’re 22 – are some of them peeling off into family life, wife and kids stuff?
Yeah, a few of my friends have.
FM: And are they still part of the weekend gang activities?
Not really much any more. The odd time.
FM: So do you think that the ‘country life’ is more compatible with being single?
I wouldn’t say that, because most of my friends have a girlfriend or someone else, but just aren’t ready to settle down yet.
FM: What I’m kinda sniffing at here is whether ‘settling down’ means giving up some or maybe lots of the activities that single guys do, as you’ve described.
Yeah, pretty much.
FM: And then what? What does life after marriage look like?
I’m not sure.
I wouldn’t say it’s boring, a couple of my friends still like to have fun, like to come out.
FM: My check list again…I include substance use as a health issue. You indicate no health issues, but you describe a social life that has alcohol, maybe drugs, I dunno, as fairly central. Would you say, from the inside looking out, that your gang drinks too much, parties too much, or it’s manageable?
I think it’s manageable. It’s not like we go out of control. Either watching a game or having a fire or something.
FM: So what would problematic drinking look like? How would you ‘know’ if one of your buddies was developing a problem with, say, drinking?
I’d’ say if one of them were drinking a case a night, a bottle a night, it’s a problem.
FM: And what about drugs? What part does that play in social life among guys like you who choose to stay here?
I don’t think there’s as many drugs down here as there would be in the city. I don’t believe, anyways.
FM: We were all spooked a bit, though, when a year or so ago, less than that, that local kid ended up dead with what looked like a drug deal gone bad… and I think raised the question of whether we just don’t see drug stuff here, but it’s here.
I just think we don’t see it.
FM: But not your gang?
FM: Lemme check this with you. Some of the youth in this research who live rurally say that there’s nothing to do, so ‘of course’ they drink and drug too much. And it raises the issue of whether it is possible to have a ‘normal’ young life with so few outlets or recreational facilities or whatever. What do you think about that?
I’m not sure what to say, really, but we usually find something to do, whether it’s winter or summer. There’s hockey going on. There’s gym around here. But yeah, there’s not a lot to do a lot of times but you gotta try and find something.
FM: Like what? What might fill the gap that city kids fill with hanging at the mall, going to the movies, etc.
In summers there’s always baseball, going to the beach, playing volleyball. A lot of my friends like to bow-hunt so we’re all into that. You can do that until the summer. There’s always hockey, hockey tournaments. That’s my idea, anyways.
FM: Y’know on Saturday we were at the [local bar] listening to some excellent blues music, and there were just a few young people in the crowd, and I was hearing in my head, youth in this research saying there was nothing to do when my experience, living up here, is you can be out every night if you want to. But then I wondered – one youth said – that youth here are not welcome at lots of events, that they’re intended for us old guys and young guys are not made to feel welcome. Do you think so?
I don’t think so.
FM: Not your experience?
I’ve never had any problem. I have a lot of older friends. Never had a problem going into somewhere and being turned away.
FM: Okay. No experience with mental helath problems, depression?
FM: Or involvement with the law?
FM: Okay, that’s sorta my list. I have some finish-up questions. Are we there?
FM: Alrighty. In order to give this narrative the shape and focus that you mean it to have, for the people who will read it, what would you say is the Most Important Event in the story that influences how it unfolds. It could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen, an absence or a hole of some sort. Most Important Event, whadya say?
[long thoughtful pause]
I’d probably say when I got into my apprenticeship, that’s probably the biggest step I took, and then moving out on my own. That’s probably the biggest one, having the responsibility on your shoulders when you’re just getting by sometimes, and succeeding through the rough times.
FM: Did you ever get in the situation where your roomy stiffed you for the rent or created problems that way?
Yes. He missed a month’s rent which meant I had to solve it on my own. He was having a hard time, out of a job.
FM: Did it threaten the friendship at all?
Oh, no. He explained to me what happened, not much I can do. He paid me as quickly as he could.
FM: You said you knew him from school. Old buddy?
Basically grew up with him.
FM: Okay, next question… although actually, I have to say that it seems to me that you were exceedingly lucky – or else had brilliant friends – that your apprenticeship just landed on your lap.
Yeah, he knew I was looking for a job and a trade and opportunity came and I basically made my decision.
FM: So maybe not luck so much as a really tuned-in network of friends?
FM: It’s call Social Capital. And it’s worth money. Indirectly.
FM: Okay, the next question is your judgement about how you think – lemme start this way: People who read this story will form an opinion about how they think this story is going to end up, good, or not so good. What is your opinion?
My opinion is I think it’s going to turn out good. It’s turned out well so far. I’m succeeding in what I’m doing and if I have a rough time, I get through it.
FM: Who and/or what helps you get through rough times?
If I’m having a rough time financially, my dad usually helps me out. But other than that I fight though it on my own.
Yeah. They’re always around, be there to help you out.
FM: Sometimes in groups there are the part that takes and the part that gives – your group like that?
We’re all pretty much give from each other and take from each other and share.
FM: Okay. Two advice questions. First one: What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice?
Um, [long pause] I dunno. I’d say if you’re going to go to college, stay in school and succeed. And if it’s not what you want, if you’re not set on college, being in a trade is your best option.
FM: Do you think you’d have been happy to stay here if you hadn’t had your year of partying in Middletown?
I think I would have been happy staying here but I probably would have kicked myself now if I didn’t go out and do it for the experience.
FM: So sort of need to know what you’re (not) missing, rather than wondering what you’re missing?
Yeah, I’d say do the fun and stuff you’re going to do when you’re young, travelling and doing things like that.
FM: You haven’t talked about travelling; is that something you want to do?
No, I probably would have back in high school. I wouldn’t do it now after buying the house and – have to do it before then.
FM: Or, when you’ve got your papers and earning good money, you could take a month off during the slow season?
Yeah. I could. I’d probably wait till I’m older to travel anywhere now, just to save up.
FM: Where would you go?
Probably just somewhere warm.
FM: Okay. Last advice question: What advice would you give to people like me who would like to be helpful to young people like yourself, to make this transition smoother or easier – what could be done that would be helpful?
Not really sure, tell you the truth.
FM: I wondered if the counseling department had been more up to speed or enthusiastic or whatever about apprenticeships, whether that would have made your transition faster… but maybe you didn’t mind, actually wanted, to have the year with no plans.
I wanted the year with no plans.
FM: Does your dad have a trade ticket? Anybody you know – aside from your boss?
I know a lot of people with tickets, cousins, friends.
FM: So it wasn’t like this was foreign territory – lots of folks you knew had been where you wanted to go.
FM: Let me check this one with you. Some people have said that a) employers don’t offer work in a way that allows you to make a decent living, b) employers don’t know or don’t do their part in apprenticeship…what’s your sense, either from your experience or your gang??? Re :bad bosses.
I think a couple of my friends have had bad bosses. I’ve never experienced a terrible boss. He’s always got me the work, does his part to help me with the apprenticeship.
FM: And what about the opinion that local guys tend to have bad work ethic or bad business practice? Everything from they don’t call back when they say they will, or the employee doesn’t show up on a predictable basis, that kind of stuff. Do you hear that?
Don’t hear it that much. See basically the same crew, so.
FM: So could be there are a couple of worlds out there, and–
FM: Okay, I think I’m done. Anything more?
Don’t think so.