Cesar Garcia is a Lead Detailer who turned out of the steamfitting program at Local 393. With an affinity for drawing, HVAC, and mechanical sheet metal, Cesar found himself open to many different opportunities post-turning out, which took him from the office to being the lead Foreman on big projects and everything in between. He found the need to give back to the next generation of trades workers and became an instructor at the Pipe Trades Training Center.
Q: What would you say makes PTTC so special?
A: Before I got into the trades, I went to a two-year college and started off as a draftsman. I happened to work for a mechanical contractor, working in their engineering department. I got the opportunity to work with pipefitters, plumbers, and sheet metal workers. They encouraged me at the time to think about getting into the trades because it was a great career. So I asked which local would they recommend, and everyone I talked to said the Pipe Trades Training Center and Local 393 had the best program. Everybody said this was the training center to be a part of so that's where I applied and here I am many, many years later.
Q: You said you started off with college, what was a turning point for you where you realized college is not for me?
A: Well, back in 2013, I returned to college and finished my bachelor's degree in 2016. Honestly, there was a lot to learn in the mechanical industry and I'm a visual learner, not so much a book learner. When I was working in the office and when I started working with engineering, the one thing I always struggled with was understanding how systems worked. I found that going on job walks was the best opportunity for me to learn about the trades. The discipline I felt the weakest in was piping and plumbing. I felt stronger about mechanical sheet metal and HVAC. So I told myself, if I really wanna learn this trade, I need to get into the field. That's what was going to be the best for me because I am a visual learner, and it was the best career decision I made in my entire life. When I returned to school in 2013, I picked up my bachelor's in construction management. They go together - pipe fitting, plumbing, and HVAC. I felt that it was going to be the best opportunity for me.
Q: What would you say surprised you about joining the trades? Did you think you were going to have the same opportunities as people who went to college? How did you feel making that transition?
A: Well, because I had already started the office route, I was seeing where I didn't have the knowledge that I really needed to excel in the mechanical trades. Going into the field was the big deciding factor for me. I knew going in what I didn't know. As I started to go out into the field, I realized that I knew what the equipment was, I'd seen it in a drawing, but I'd never visually seen it in the field. Piping has so many systems and materials, and there's so much that goes into it that unless you really see it, sometimes you may really understand it. I went into it with my eyes wide open and I had a different perspective because I knew what I didn't know. I was excited every day because I was learning every day. Sometimes, until you actually see it, it's hard to visualize it, no matter how much somebody explains it.
Q: Can you take me through your apprenticeship experience? Maybe any memorable moments you’ve had on the job?
A: The brotherhood and sisterhood that comes with the skilled trades. Now that I've transitioned back to mainly working in an office, I miss the comradery that I had working in the field. You build some lifelong friendships and relationships with the people that you're working with day in and day out. Putting in piping systems and plumbing systems is a different dynamic than it is working in an office. My most memorable experience as an apprentice goes back to my first weeks in the apprenticeship. I transitioned from working in an office to the first week of my apprenticeship working in the hot August sun feathering and digging ditches for fuel lines. I would go home every day and tell my wife I didn't know if I made the right decision. She always supported me, telling me to go with my heart and that she would back my decision no matter what I did. It was really hard work, but I was glad I survived those first three weeks.
Q: What did your journey look like post-turning out? Can you take me through the path that led you to where you are now?
A: I served my apprenticeship with one contractor my entire time in. I really loved it, I did all five years there. Unfortunately, in my fifth year, when I went to turn out, they had to file for bankruptcy. So as I turned out, I went to another company. They needed somebody capable of drawing on the computer that knew CAD, but I didn't do it all the time. It worked out really well for me when I journeyed out. I was asked to come work for a contractor, and I would spend a portion of the year doing some drawing and the other portion was working as a journeyman, actually doing some of my own installations of some of the things I had drawn. I would learn firsthand the mistakes I had made, and then the drawing part started to pick up as the company grew. It got to the point where I was doing more and more drawing and detailing. I did that exclusively for about another three or four years. Finally, after about four years of drawing and detailing, I found that I wasn't able to execute the work. No matter how much I could draw something it wasn't necessarily how it was executed out in the field. I made the decision to get back into the field and run my own work in order to see it executed through.
I ended up transitioning out of detailing and out of drawing, and I became a working Foreman. I then got to become an actual Foreman and ran a crew. I went from running a crew to running an entire project, getting into a general Foreman role at that point. From my general Foreman role, I moved into the role of a Project Superintendent, and I ran a $35 million data center project here in Santa Clara. I've always had a connection to detailing and drawing. It was always the ace in my pocket. I always had something to go back to. I was asked to manage a detailing department, which wasn't necessarily what I wanted to do because I was enjoying my work. Sometimes duty calls and you have to do what you're asked to do. I also became an instructor at the Pipe Trades Training Center. I knew the tool I had learned was something a lot of our members would like to learn about as well. So as soon as I journeyed out, I wanted to give back and I offered to help teach CAD down at the training center. I taught for five years early in my career. I partnered with another instructor - he would teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I would teach on Mondays and Wednesdays. After about five years, my son was really young and I wanted to be there for him, so I decided to stop teaching so I could focus on my family and career.
Several years had gone by and a new software came out called Revit. Our training center was looking to teach the new software. Initially, I didn't want to do it because of the additional commitment, but then, I thought more about it. I'm starting to get older. I'm getting closer to retirement, and I still have this need to give back. You know, that's what the trades are all about. We learn a lot of things over the course of our careers and it's important to give back, to keep our membership strong. I want to continue making the Pipe Trades Training Center the best training facility here in the Bay Area. I feel I've got an obligation to share my knowledge and share my mistakes with the next generation so they can learn from what we've done and help fill those seats when it's time for us to retire and step away. So in a nutshell that's the career path I took post turning out.
Q: Why would you say it's so important for journey levels to continue their education post apprenticeship?
A: The reason is because of the opportunities in this career. There are so many opportunities, and a lot of the time you're not aware of them. Who knew that you can go from installation to drawing? Maybe you want to get into estimating, maybe it's project management. It could be focusing on the detailing side, maybe you get into programming. All the software we use is customizable and I've known of individuals that have gotten really good at navigating the ins and outs of the software that they go on to do some of their own programming. I started out day one as a pipefitter, and now I'm working as a programmer. There are just so many opportunities in the trades. Like I said, it's the best career decision I have made in my entire life, so take advantage of what the Pipe Trades Training Center has to offer. It's a great opportunity to see what else is out there.
Q: What would you tell someone considering a career in the skilled trades?
A: You know it's challenging, but it's fun. Like I said, the brotherhood and sisterhood, the friendships, and relationships that you create. It’s one of the best careers you could choose to do. It's very rewarding and satisfying.
Q: You've probably worked on a ton of buildings throughout your career, but what was one of the most memorable or most iconic buildings that you were able to contribute to?
A: A project that I was fortunate to be a project superintendent on, was for Santa Clara, the data center. I had the opportunity to run a team of about 75 men on that job. Now one person doesn't run a team of 75 guys by themselves. I had a great group of General Foremen. One of the best compliments that I received was from one of the general foremen that I was an apprentice for. He ended up becoming one of our business agents and he told me he had never seen such a well-run project in his entire career, that it took a huge weight off his shoulders because he felt that we were in good hands. I didn't know I had that kind of impression on some people. It just feels good, you really appreciate those little things.
Q: My next question was going to be if you had any advice for apprentices, but based on your story, what are some things that apprentices can do now or while they're a journey level to get them to that point of being so organized?
A: Being curious. Be curious about what you're installing. If you want to learn more, let your Foreman know. Ask how things work, ask what the project looks like on a set of plans, just ask questions. Be aware of the moment, that it’s not just pipes - there's a science behind it, there's a system behind it. It's not just putting pipe in the air for eight hours and then you go home. Learn what that system is doing, its functions, and what it does from A to Z. That's the recommendation, be curious, ask questions, talk to your journeyman, and talk to your Foreman. If you're eager to learn more, voice those interests. If you want to move into a role as a Foreman or a detailer ask questions of how can I get there? How did you do it? If you show interest hopefully the word gets relayed on and it moves up the chain. You also have to back that move. If you request it, you have to show up and you have to own it.