Michael Gallegos hasn’t followed most people’s idea of a typical career path. After more than 20 years working for Proctor and Gamble, Michael decided to become a pipefitter and joined Sundt just two years ago. Hearing his story brings some questions to mind: why the switch to construction, and why now? And what kind of career do the trades offer today? Michael’s answers—like the man himself—are surprising, and they challenge some common notions of who a craft professional can be and what they can do.
When he retired from his former company, Michael was still looking to work a bit longer, but he wanted to gain practical skills and engage his mind. A brief stint running his own landscaping business became tiresome. Then he tried web design, but it “bored [him] to death.” Finally, a friend recommended he try pipefitting, and Michael said he’d give it a shot. “Now, I wasn’t the craftiest guy at home, as far as doing repair work,” Michael said, “but I feel more and more confident that I can do things now—this job puts you in the position where you have to figure it out.” Pipefitting checked both boxes of being practical and interesting, and it was exactly the career change that Michael needed.
Some friends and family were puzzled by his decision, but Michael found that the job was the right fit for him, and Sundt supported his desire to learn with opportunities to develop his skills. Now attending the Pipefitter course, taught by Josue Ponce at the Center for Craft Excellence, Michael is starting to see the benefits in his day-to-day job. By building on students’ initial field experience and combining hands-on practice with classroom instruction, Josue is helping Michael and other students take their skills to the next level. “Josue’s mentality is that everyone is going to pass this class, no matter how many rounds of review you have to do,” said Michael. “He’s here late and has a passion to make this thing work. I sense that and think ‘You’re committed? Okay, I’ll be committed too.’” Whether students come in as “greenhorns” or journeyman pipefitters, there’s always more to learn, especially from each other. “We learn from shared experience; people are always bringing up things they’ve encountered on the job, and the class pays attention when they share.”
As Michael’s job with Sundt has given him several benefits, some expected and some unexpected—like his improved health from being more active—he has a lot to say to people considering working in the trades, especially the younger generation. “I would just try to express to them: life isn’t easy. You have to sacrifice and suck it up sometimes, […] but this job will allow you to get the upper hand on your finances, and also give you options 10, 20 years down the road.” Being among the older members of his crew, Michael has found himself giving “testimonials” to incoming craft workers about investing in themselves and considering things like savings and retirement, along with work-life balance. Altogether, Sundt has gained a valuable asset through Michael’s presence in the class and on the jobsite, and for his part, Michael is glad he joined Sundt. “I look back and I think, with the different paths I’ve taken, I have no regrets,” Michael said. “For the most part, I just feel I’ve gained valuable information—wisdom if you want to call it that. More importantly, I’ve gotten to know people.” And that knowledge, at the end of the day, may be the most valuable of all.