IUOE Apprenticeships are the way to go, I've been in 3 years and it was the best decision I've ever made. I have access to a ton of off-site training at our training center, as most locals do, and the on the job training is unmatched. I just can't see how paying someone to teach you a trade makes any sense but more power to you. It's a tough show out there right now, work is scarce and you have to fight tooth and nail for a job. I started off in the dirt, that was what I knew and what I joined the IUOE to do; push dirt. About a year ago, I made the jump to cranes. While I miss the dirt some days, hoisting is less seasonal, in higher demand, I won't say more fun because I don't really believe it is but it's a better choice these days if you want to stay busy. Good hook hands are harder to find than good blade hands, argue that all day if you want but it's true here. I'm an oiler right now, but I can wrench on a crane, rig, signal, and I learn something new every day.
Coming from a dirt background, the crane world is a whole new ballgame. Unless you're working a crane rental outfit, the contractors you're working for are probably huge outfits that hire multiple trades building all kinds of stuff; tunnels, bridges, piers/wharfs, commercial buildings, etc.. I've worked with just about all the trades out there, met a ton of people and learned a whole lot from electricians, carpenters/pilebucks, iron workers. Being exposed to that kind of construction was a wild change for me, working in a yard and learning how to be work-wise with materials and planning your work is invaluable experience.
Construction is very rewarding, I really enjoy being part of a team getting things done. The dirt outfit I was with for almost 2 years just finished up the job I spent a year and a half working on about 2 months ago. It was a cool feeling to drive the finished ramps and alignments knowing that I was there, built the subgrade, cut the slopes, bailed the export, installed the drainage, prepped the finish grade for paving, etc.. As I drove the alignments, I had a story for every 10 feet of the alignment like I had just been there yesterday and that's a tough feeling to beat knowing that your work will stand the test of time and chances are, it'll be there well after I'm gone. That is a cool feeling and it's what gets me up in the morning.
My advice is to do what you think is right and go for it. Your attitude will take you a long way anywhere in life, but it's especially true in this trade. Show up early, stay late, never turn down hours, keep your iron clean, and most importantly, be safe.
Go hard, go fast, or go home