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Nellijah Hilliard

Nellijah Hilliard; a first-year apprentice in Local 276, was like many other high school seniors, thinking about what his next steps would be after completing school. Then one day, he had the opportunity to hear about a career in the construction industry, and specifically as a union carpenter, when Local 276 Council Representative Jomo Akono visited the Health Sciences Charter School of Buffalo and presented to the students.

While on the path to a future career, Nellijah said, “One thing was for sure; I didn’t see myself behind a desk my whole life. Jomo told us being a carpenter was about being part of a group; being part of something bigger than yourself. He checked all the boxes of what I was looking for.”

Nellijah decided to take the leap and joined the Carpenters 964 Pre-Apprenticeship Program in June 2023. This free program offered through the North Atlantic States Carpenters Training Fund is an introduction program to carpentry, for those with little to no experience.

“The program was realistic. Our instructor Bob Bearfield was great. He made it feel like a real jobsite. I learned so much from Bob and the other pre-apprentices. It was a culture of learning and growth,” said Nellijah.

The graduates completed the program and were on their way to becoming first-year apprentices. Soon after, Nellijah had the opportunity to officially join the apprenticeship program and exclaimed, “I was so excited and overwhelmed, that looking back it all seems like a blur. Being a part of the Brotherhood and the pride that comes with that means a lot to me.”

“On my first day I was so nervous, I thought I would be treated different for being new and an apprentice. I could not have been more wrong. My fellow brothers welcomed me and were happy to show me the ropes and wanted to teach me. They were so supportive.”

Currently, he is working at the new Buffalo Bills Football Stadium and when asked how it feels to be working on a job of that scale, he replied,

“It’s my why. Ever since they announced this project, I wanted to be out here building this stadium. It’s what drove me through the pre-apprenticeship and to join. It’s a surreal feeling to have wanted the chance to work at the stadium, then being one of the first carpenters chosen to be out here. I’m just so proud of where this journey has taken me.”

So, what’s next? Where will his career as a professional union carpenter take him? For a short-term goal, he expressed that he would like to be a foreman. In so far as his long-term aspirations, Nellijah said, “I’d like to work for the union as a representative or an instructor one day. I want to give back and impact lives like the union has done for me.”