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Kavanagh’s Drive To Excel, Positive Energy Earn Her ‘Apprentice of the Year’ Award

Kavanagh’s Drive To Excel, Positive Energy Earn Her ‘Apprentice of the Year’ Award

Associated General Contractors of Michigan (AGC) has awarded it’s 2019 Apprentice of the Year award to Operating Engineers 324’s Elizabeth Kavanagh.

A resident of Yale, Elizabeth, 25, is an outstanding example of an apprentice at Operating Engineers 324 who goes above and beyond to improve her skills. She is not just employable, but also highly sought after.

Elizabeth’s excellent work ethic begins by always showing up early. When bad weather is in the forecast, she prepares accordingly. Her instructors and colleagues say she’s still at least 30 minutes early for a job or an appointment.

“I went to college for a year,” she says. “I came home for the summer and started working at a local feed mill for a summer job. When it was time to go back to college, I decided that I didn’t want to go back, but knew I had to find a career that didn’t require college. My dad is a journeyman lineman in the IBEW Local 17, and my mom works at the Ford Proving Grounds as a heavy equipment operator, along with many other family members in different trades. So, I knew I could make a living in a trade. Growing up on a farm, I was always around and interested in heavy equipment, so I thought I would try to become an operator.”

With her mom’s help, Elizabeth researched heavy equipment careers. She contacted Operating Engineers 324 and toured its 555-acre Construction Career Center campus in Howell.

Graduating from her apprenticeship in fall 2019, she’s completed her Level One, Two, and Three proficiencies, logging in 900 hours at the operators’ training center – when only 600 hours were required.

Elizabeth is so proficient in operating a directional drill that contractors specifically request her for their projects. This is a specialty piece of equipment that many journeyperson engineers lack the training to perform and have not mastered. Yet Elizabeth has achieved enough skill and expertise that she’s often brought in to training classes and contributes to instruction on how to operate a directional drill.

“I love doing something different every day,” Elizabeth says. “I love being outdoors, and I like being a part of building and constructing new things. I would like to be proficient and comfortable on as many different pieces of equipment as I can to better my future as an operator.”

Her instructors also note that Elizabeth’s leadership and maturity are rare in an apprentice so young. They point to her safety awareness when operating a directional drill, a piece of equipment that can damage gas and electrical lines and other buried hazards that could put her and her coworkers at risk. And colleagues and instructors alike point to Elizabeth’s drive to excel and expand her skills as an operator.

Yet these qualities pale next to the one everyone says stands out.

“The thing that sets Elizabeth apart is her absolutely infectious positive attitude,” says Krystle Schnell, JATF civil instructor and member of OE324. “I have never had an encounter with Elizabeth where she wasn’t smiling, which inevitably leads to laughing, and as a result, even the grouchiest on-lookers can’t help but to chuckle.”

“It is so refreshing to see the atmosphere of a room change simply because one individual in the room isn’t afraid to smile and radiate positive energy.”

Mark Zinser, Operating Engineers 324 Apprenticeship Coordinator concurs: “I’ve gotten many compliments from construction company supervisors who cite Elizabeth’s skill and her commitment to safety. She is truly a role model for apprentices in the skilled trades, man or woman. I know she’s made a huge difference in contributing to the quality work of every project she’s been on, but also in lifting up other apprentices so they can excel together. That’s leadership, and we’re proud to have Elizabeth be a part of Operating Engineers 324.”

Elizabeth credits her fellow operators for supporting her as she developed and learned new skills. And her tip for excelling in the trades: “Being happy every day going to work, loving what you do and being safe.”

To youth considering a career as an operator, Elizabeth describes her job as “like making money in a big sandbox!”

Apprenticeships provide good wages that increase annually. They put OE 324 members on a career track to remain competitive and sought-after in a high-demand field. Apprenticeships are unique partnerships jointly funded by OE324 and employers and business partners in a training trust.

Apprentices are eligible for the same benefits enjoyed by all OE324, including health insurance, pensions, and access to union training programs. Training opportunities and employment are open to all, regardless of race, sex, creed, color, religion, or national origin.

Operating Engineers 324 will take applications from people aspiring to enter the program from June 8-12.  Details can be found at