After Moises Vega III graduated from high school, he felt pressure to go to college. Though he was unsure about his future, his teachers and family told him getting a degree was a surefire way to jumpstart a career. 

Three years and two different schools later, Moises found that advice wasn’t true for his life story. So, he packed away his textbooks and began looking for his next move. 

Through a conversation with a friend, Moises, who’s now 21, began learning about union careers and was quickly intrigued by the prospect of being an electrician. “I like to see work get done from my hands. It motivates me more than working on academic courses,” he said.

After some studying and an online prep test, Moises took the entrance exam required to apply for a union apprenticeship, the first step in a trade career. Unfortunately, he didn’t pass. 

Instead of giving up, he turned to Access United, a United Way program that helps individuals who are underrepresented in the trades including women, people of color and those who were formerly incarcerated — access job opportunities. Access United engages residents to learn about trade careers, enrolls candidates in test prep sessions for apprenticeship entrance exams, helps candidates cover costs of tools and uniforms, informs candidates of union job openings and more. 

United Way’s strong partnerships with the labor community, including the Chicago Federation of Labor and local workforce development programs, enable this additional support. “We don’t have the resources or capacity to help everyone we want to help, so we leverage our partnerships with the labor community and the great workforce programs and partners we have in the neighborhoods to create better outcomes for Chicagoans,” said Gus Fuguitt, United Way’s Director of Labor Partnerships. 

One of our partners is IBEW Local 134, an electrical workers’ union that partners with Access United to create a pipeline to quality careers. Maurice King, Vice President of the union, noted the candidates who work with Access United come to him more prepared for the exam, more informed about the career field and more confident about their potential. 

 “Working together is almost a no-brainer. It’s a win-win,” Maurice said. “We share the same values — a fair wage, decent benefits and treating workers with respect and dignity.” 

On a Thursday afternoon in late August, Moises attended an Access United event to sign-up for a few test prep sessions. Over the next few weeks, he would learn and polish all the skills, from reading comprehension to paper-folding for spatial visualization, he needs to pass the exam. 

With Access United’s support, he hopes to take and ace his test in November. Then, he’ll plan to enroll in an apprenticeship program to begin learning his trade. “I wanted to get help that wasn’t there before,” Moises said. “Now, I feel a lot more secure. I want to do this to feel prepared and feel in control of my life.” 

Ultimately, Moises hopes to one day become a master electrician and support himself. With a livable wage and benefits, he plans to contribute more to his family and help his parents build their new house. He also hopes his hard work will encourage his siblings and cousins to pursue careers in the trades, too. “Me being successful in this means me spreading the word to them. I wish when I graduated high school that someone told me this was an option,” he said. “It would be beneficial for me to set an example for them.” 

Though he still has a lot of work to do and a test to pass, the idea of having financial security keep Moises pressing on when the going gets tough. 

“Having a good paying job does something to you. You just feel proud of yourself after everything you’ve been put through,” he imagined. “It’s sort of the best feeling you can have, just knowing that, one day, you’re going to have a stable job and money.” 

Quality careers can transform the lives of our neighbors, like Moises. Donate today to support critical programs like Access United.