Carpenter, Mother, Student
When 37-year-old Terri Ringler drives into Indianapolis with her daughters, she likes to point out landmarks like Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Mom helped build that,” she tells them.
Ringler is a carpenter with Shiel Sexton Co., one of Indiana’s largest construction companies, and its only female carpenter among more than 300 employees. She wishes more women knew about the opportunities construction apprenticeships offer.
“Construction offers great opportunities for women, but I think it can be intimidating,” Ringler says. “You feel like you can’t do it, but you can. More women should jump in and do it.”
In fact, entering a construction apprenticeship program seven years ago changed Ringler’s life. She and her husband had recently separated, and Ringler was worried about how she’d support her two children as a single mother with a high school diploma. At the time, she was 30 years old and only earning about $12,000 a year at a minimum-wage job in Franklin, Indiana.
Ringler had grown up helping her father, who was also a carpenter, so she knew her way around construction. She went to work as a laborer, cleaning construction sites, where she learned about the Associated Builders and Contractors of Indiana/Kentucky apprenticeship program.
“I knew I was capable of doing so much more than picking up trash and sweeping floors,” Ringler says. “When they asked if I wanted to do the apprenticeship, I said, sign me up. Let’s go.”
It wasn’t easy, she acknowledges. The apprenticeship required that she take classes from 5-9 p.m. one evening each week, nearly year-round, in addition to working and learning under experienced carpenters in her full-time day job. Some of the classes required to earn her associate degree from Vincennes University, along with the apprenticeship trade classes, were challenging.
When she needed to, Ringler asked for help, and she got it. Family members pitched in to check on her kids when she needed to be at work or class. Instructors and her employer helped propel her toward her goal.
“Everyone at the ABC program was very helpful,” she says. “They make sure you succeed.”
Within four years of starting her apprenticeship, Ringler earned her associate degree—at no cost, paid by the ABC program—and has continued to increase her earnings on the job. And, in two more years, Ringler expects to have earned her bachelor’s degree in construction management from Vincennes and continue to move up the pay scale.
“Without the apprenticeship program, I would never have been able to support my kids,” Ringler says. “It’s amazing what I’ve been able to do in six years.”