Local 601 has long been a tradition in Zielke’s family – his grandfather, uncle, and cousin were all members – and after attending Boys’ Tech for high school, it was a natural fit for Zielke to apply to begin his apprenticeship. The economy, however, wasn’t on his side during that time, and the Steamfitters weren’t taking on any new apprentices, so Zielke decided to pursue Engineering courses at MSOE and worked to gain industry experience as an estimator while he waited.
Rewarded for his patience and hard work, Zielke finally secured his apprenticeship with Local 601, and his career in the union construction industry took off from there; eventually becoming a journeyman steamfitter, a project foreman and superintendent on significant projects like St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Harley Davidson Product Development Center. He eventually was recognized for his great work by his union leadership and brought on to the Local 601 Executive Board, where he continued to move up through the ranks, eventually becoming Business Manager in 2015.
According to Zielke, this is the best job he’s ever had. “I get to work every day with a great team to influence the path this union takes,” he said. This means increasing training opportunities to meet customers’ needs, encouraging the membership to get more involved and continue to build a pipeline for their future workforce.
Zielke tries to always look toward the future. “The past is over with, and you have to stay relevant. This trade is so diverse, and we have to make sure our workers are prepared for whatever comes next.” That starts with recruiting the right people. Steamfitters Local 601 currently has about 250 apprentices, and Zielke credits his training team for great enrollment and retention rates. He says that it is incredibly important to be upfront about the realities and potential difficulties of the job during their training orientations, but to also emphasize the benefits that come along with it. “We are constantly looking for ways to reinvest back into our workforce, in terms of pay, benefits, pension and training opportunities. We are about what is best for working people here in Wisconsin.”