A Career in Construction with Shabrea Thornton

“Now that I’m in construction, I’m proud of where I’m at in life today,” Shabrea Thornton says with pride and feelings of accomplishment for her recent efforts to ensure a brighter, more stable future for herself and her daughter.

Born and raised in Bayview-Hunters Point, Thornton is working as an apprentice laborer with Bertco, Inc., on the WW-647R Biosolids Digester Facilities Project (BDFP) project located in the Bayview-Hunters Point. Thornton was first inspired to get into the construction field after hearing stories from her relatives who were working in the industry as both carpenters and operating engineers. She was inspired by their examples of steady work and career stability, particularly as compared to the recent upheaval economic impacts due to the global pandemic.

She was also impressed by the well-established trajectory union construction jobs offer, and how they can be a great option for people looking to build long-term careers with structured pay raises, health benefits, and a pension. “I love that I’m able to move up and not just be stuck in one place [my] entire life,” says Thornton.

A “typical” workday for Thornton can be different every day. Among her various job responsibilities, she reviews manifests, keeps inventory of the trucks, does site cleanup, and works on a wide array of other assignments given to her by the foreman throughout the day. “There is never a dull moment in the construction trade!” she exclaims.

Shabrea Thornton.

Thornton began her construction job exploration at the SFPUC’s Southeast Construction Hub, where she was given information and personal assistance to identify resources for training and support services. Through the HUB’s network of community service providers and workforce referral agencies, she first met and spoke with Brightline Defense, a Bay Area organization and environmental justice non-profit that works to empower individuals and communities to create more sustainable environments. Soon after she was placed in the One Treasure Island Construction Training Program.

One Treasure Island provides three cycles of seven weeks of construction training to workers to qualify to become a Lead and Asbestos Abatement Laborer Apprentices. Thornton’s success in the program led her to joining Laborers’ Local 261 as an apprentice laborer soon after graduating. As an apprentice laborer, Thornton began her construction job hunt in earnest. With the help of the SFPUC’s Labor Relations Specialist, Brian Thomas, she was connected to Bertco, Inc., who was looking to hire local workers from the community to join its crew on the BDFP project.

Thornton has already learned many lessons in her brief career so far, but she emphasizes one key piece of advice for others looking to get into construction, “Stay motivated!” Being one of the very few women in a male-dominated trade can be challenging at times, but she says persistence pays off. “You have to be willing to stand out, work hard, and always be open to learning new things.”