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Union Construction Academy (UCA) Graduate Kamron King Starts Career at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (IBB 920)

Andy O’Brien
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PHOTO: UCA graduate Kamron King (Boilermakers 920) & his father Mike King (Teamsters 340, retired)

When Kamron King of Saco, 22, began considering his career options, he was drawn to union trades. But when he applied for apprenticeships in union workplaces, he found it challenging to get hired anywhere. A graduate of the Baxter School for the Deaf, King has struggled throughout his life with a hearing impairment. 

In job interviews, he received a lot of questions about whether he would be able to hear noises or vehicles behind him. King explained that he could still hear a little, but he knew they were concerned about his safety. One company rejected him because he had limited experience and that they didn’t have enough instructors on the job to teach him.

While King was in a vocational rehabilitation program that helps people with disabilities find and keep a job, he learned about the Union Construction of Maine, a pre-apprentice program that trains underrepresented groups of people for union careers in the trades. He was accepted into the program, where he worked with a diverse cohort of pre-apprentices, many of them asylum seekers from Africa.

“It was an experience seeing so many new faces and different cultures,” said King. “I was very surprised about all the different people who wanted to be a part of a union. Different cultures are exactly what we need because, as I learned, the past 100 years it’s been the same culture and they want to change that up, which is one thing I’m very happy about.”

At first King considered becoming an electrician, but found that he  really enjoyed welding so he decided to pursue that trade. During the four-week training, he got both hands-on and classroom training in construction skills and learned all about unions and the benefits of joining one.

“We talked a lot about safety because we’re working in a dangerous job so it’s important to know safety and understand your rights as well,” he said.

Following King’s graduation from the UCA, the instructors recommended that he bring his updated resume to a job fair where he was hired on the spot by Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. A week after that, he was attending his job orientation at the yard. He has since joined the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers (IBB) Local 920. The training and knowledge of safety that he learned in his pre-apprenticeship has also helped him to become more aware of his surroundings at work so that he remains safe despite his disability.

“I’m ok but it’s very loud because the ship fitters do a lot of grinding, so at some point if my supervisor wants to tell me something, I may tell them to step out of the workplace so I can hear them better,” he says.

Kamron's father Mike King, a retired UPS driver and member of Teamsters Local 340, drops his son off a mile from home every day to be picked up at the shuttle bus that takes him down to the shipyard. Mike says he wishes he had followed a similar path as his son because UPS was a tough gig. After 19 years working for the company he sustained a workplace injury and was forced to retire. He says the Union Construction Academy was an excellent program to help prepare his son for a career that turned out to be a better fit for him than other places he applied.

“I think it’s fantastic, not just for people who have challenges to overcome, but for anybody,” said King. “But for those who do [have challenges] like Kamron — and people coming from other countries with fantastic experience, but have difficulty getting hired for whatever reason — it’s such a boost. Not just the training, but the confidence I saw in everybody there on graduation night. They were all pumped!”

Kamron King says he would definitely recommend UCA to other workers like himself.

“I would definitely recommend enrolling in the UCA because when you join a union at such a young age, think of what’s going to happen in 30 years while you’re still in your 50s and have a lot of money in your pocket and very good benefits for your family, food on the table and a nice house,” said King. “It’s better to join a union because it will be better for you in the future.”

"We used to call that the American Dream," his father added.