A life beyond paycheck-to-paycheck

Kandice RileyAFL-CIO, Education, Financial Stability, Health, Partners

Cijie Potts

By United Way of the Ozarks volunteer writer

In early April 2022, Cijie Potts wanted to turn her life around, but she didn’t have the resources to make it happen.  

Her past hadn’t prepared her for a career. A single mom, she worked double shifts in a food service job with no benefits, unable to afford her own place to live.  

She describes her life then as “boring and uncertain,” always worrying “How am I gonna pay my bills?” She couldn’t see a way out of her situation. 

By the middle of May 2022, Cijie started a new job as an apprentice with Laborers Local #663, moved into her own place, and now sees a much brighter future for herself and her family. 

How did things turn around for Cijie in just five weeks?  

A hand up to careers in construction 

Cijie is one of the first graduates of the Missouri Apprentice Ready Program in Springfield. United Way of the Ozarks assists the program through the Missouri Works Initiative, a nonprofit organization sponsored and supported by the Missouri AFL-CIO.  

The five-week program offers a point of entry into the construction trades for underrepresented groups, including women and under-resourced individuals. The program aims to create a more equitable, inclusive and diverse workforce while also increasing the number of Missourians participating in registered construction apprenticeships. Three more classes are planned this year with the next class to run July 8.  

Program participants complete the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum developed by North America’s Building Trades Unions. This introduction to a number of trades gives participants a boost toward career choices they could not otherwise access.  

For five weeks, participants delve into construction math, diversity awareness, sexual harassment, financial literacy, construction safety (OSHA 10, first aid, and CPR/AED certification) and other content. They visit various trades’ training facilities for hands-on experience with tools and materials, and they meet with representatives and leaders of construction trade unions.  

A new kind of confidence 

Cijie says her main fear going into the program was being female. But when asked what she learned about herself from the experience she says, “It has taught me that I can work just as good as a man.”  

Meeting labor leaders who were seeking people like her was life changing. Cijie was able to put aside her insecurities and the struggle to find work that paid a living wage. In this program, employers came to her, sharing with her why they wanted her as part of their team and what their apprenticeships could offer her. 

Cijie appreciates the connections she’s made through the Missouri Works Initiative and United Way of the Ozarks. The five-week experience and the new apprenticeship have given her the confidence to speak about reaching her goals and creating a life of stability. Without the burden of low-wage double shifts, she can plan to have dinner with her family, instead of telling them, “Dinner is in the fridge.”  

To learn more about the Missouri Apprenticeship Program visit our blog.

An opportunity for the community 

Entrance to the free pre-apprentice program is by application. To learn more about participation requirements, preferred credentials and application process, visit the Missouri Works Initiative.