After Marina Etimani received her bachelor's degree in criminal justice, she wanted to become an FBI agent. But life had different plans for her.
While she was waiting to become of age to be an FBI agent, her mother died and she returned to American Samoa to be with her family.
Family then brought her to Las Vegas after her brother had a baby. Etimani started working for Home Depot. She got her master's degree in business management and eventually became a supervisor. But despite the degrees, something didn't feel quite right.
"It's not what I wanted. I just got it to get it," Etimani said, referring to her degree. "My friend introduced me to the labors union. It was more hands on, it's more like me."
After another career working with a fishing boat in Alaska during the recession, Etimani returned to Las Vegas again. That's when she took various tests to get into a labor union. Sheet Metal Workers Local 88 was the first to contact her.
"Coming into the field, I thought it was going to be hard, which it is, it's hard work," she said. "But it's more fun... The artistic part of it, the stainless steel... I made some vases out of it. With that, I was like oh cool, I can make anything."
Etimani's instructor showed her how to make a trash can through welding. Etimani recognized that sheet metal could be practical, like her work creating ducts for air conditioning systems, but also creative.
"But also they do different things. I didn't know it was different until I joined. When I joined, I thought it was just metal only," she said. "But when I joined, they do all kinds of stuff -- stainless, architectural, industrial welding -- and they certify you for that."
The Sheet Metal Local No. 88 Training Center, located at 2540 Marco St., is one of 153 similar facilities throughout the United States and Canada. Its four-year program trains apprentices in the classroom and shops, through partnerships with local signatory contractors, on the job site. Upon completion of the program, apprentices can graduate with an associate degree in applied science. Etimani is about halfway through the program but once she completes it, she will have her third degree.
"I think anyone, whoever wants to do construction or sheet metal, I think you should do it," Etimani said. "It's not just fun, it's a great secure future."