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Journey to Journeywoman: A Q&A with Angela Czerwonka

NM Q&A Journeyman 900X675

By keeping our buildings running, our tradespeople are truly embedded within the fabric of our culture. Northwestern Mutual offers a variety of exciting and fulfilling careers within the trade space. Angela Czerwonka highlights what it’s like to be a Building Automation Systems apprentice, including the training and growth opportunities that exist here.  


What initially sparked your interest in a trade career at Northwestern Mutual?  

I’ve always liked fixing things and working with my hands, doing things like hooking up security cameras or working with HVAC. But I also like working with computers too. I have a degree in computer and electronic engineering. As a Building Automation Systems apprentice, I’m able to have the best of both worlds. 

Joining Northwestern Mutual was a familiar choice. My dad was an engineer. He worked here for over 30 years. Everyone who I work with here knows my dad, so when I started it was like I was one of the crew already. They would tell me stories about my dad or show me pictures from when he was younger. And I’m like, "He still has the same mustache." 

You mentioned you’re an apprentice. Can you tell us more about what that means? 

Northwestern Mutual created its own apprentice program for those interested in becoming journeypersons. The way it works is that you go to school part-time, and then work at NM. So, if for that semester you’re in school eight hours a week, then you have to work 32 hours. Northwestern Mutual partners with a local school and they pay for the classes that I take through the program.  

The classes give you a basic understanding of what could arise, like the power is off on the other side of the building, so the HVAC doesn't work. With the learning material, you get a background of what you should do to fix it or how to troubleshoot. So, when you come into work the next day and something goes wrong, you're like “Oh, I just had that in class. I can go check these three things.” The apprenticeship usually lasts around four years. Once I finish my training hours and pass the necessary classes then I’ll be a Building Automation Systems technician. 

What are the key job responsibilities and duties of someone working in this space? 

We support a few areas, including the security cameras around campus, employee badge functionality, HVAC, fire systems and more. When I come into work, my first step is usually to check that all the systems are online. I make sure there are no major alarms going off or any urgent needs. Then I look to see if there are any work orders and complete those. From there, I’m on-call for any requests that come in real time. No two days look the same, which is exciting. There’s always something new to learn.  

What has it been like to work at Northwestern Mutual? 

This industry, as a whole, is very male dominated. People don't really think about who is running the building behind the scenes, and ensuring lights, power, and everything else involved is operating properly. So, when I answer calls or go to my classes, I’m often met with surprise that I'm a woman. 

And coming here, I knew from my dad what the culture would be like, but as one of the only women working in the trades, I still felt a little hesitant of what my work experience would be like. Since joining, I’ve felt recognized not just as a woman but as a trades professional who knows her stuff. 

In my classes there's only one other woman. She just started taking classes. Instantly, I thought how great it was to see another woman. When I connected with her, I even said “Just stick with it. It might seem hard at first, but you can get through it.” 

What makes you want to continue your career at Northwestern Mutual? 

I think the people. And the idea that you can move around in the company. I hear a lot of people moving around and creating their own career path. If I don't want to stay in this exact role for the rest of my career, I know that I can go elsewhere within the company because there are so many different functions and areas for opportunity.