BOZEMAN — Her name is Charity Lucas, and she is the first - and to date, the only - person in the Treasure State to complete Montana’s Locksmith Apprentice Program.
“I essentially do tiny puzzles all day,” said Charity. “Which is great! I love puzzles!”
While she’s proud to be the first and only with the title in Montana, she’s also delighted to be the only woman. “That part kind of feels phenomenal because I do have a lot of customers that question my ability to do the job. I actually had one gentleman look at me and say ‘I’d like to know how you’re going to do this when I couldn’t do it,’” she recalls. “So I fixed his lock in about five seconds.”
Charity racked up 4,000 hours of work to learn the secrets of hundreds of keys. She took courses and acquired a lot of on-the-job training. There, she says she learned the skills she’d need to solve your problems. She says she’s seen it all and nothing surprises her - including some people who are surprised to see a woman show up. She says she just smiles and shows off all the skills she learned in training.
“One guy was from Utah and I fixed all his locks and he came to me the end and said ‘actually I have to apologize,’ he said ‘I didn’t think you were going to be able to do this.’ He said they have a view of what men’s work versus women’s work is … but that I did a very good job,” said Charity.
Pointing out the keys on the wall Lucas says the apprenticeship training helped her develop muscle memory to get people out of a jam.
“Our work is undervalued because people are afraid of what can go wrong if your internet is messed up or they are afraid of what happens if their pipes burst, they are afraid of what happens if their electricity is wonky,” she said. “But with the keys, it’s not a big deal until they come in here and they’re like ‘Oh my God I don’t have any keys!’" she laughs. “And you’re like well you should’ve come to us sooner but here let us fix this for you.”
Charity says there’s a unique story behind every situation.
“I had someone who hadn’t been able to open a door in a year! That was a fun one, and then they get done with it and they’re like ‘Oh my God this is life-changing, I can go out this door again!!,’” Lucas said. “I do love the jobs where they are like my dog locked my car from the inside and my keys are in there. We did have a real estate agent call because she thought all of the doors were locked. We walked up to the house it was just a passage knob, so the door didn’t lock. So I just went I opened it and she went ‘Oh man how much do I owe you.’”
She loves unique situations.
“This one time I got to work on a really old mortise lock. It’s one of where it has the steel springs and see you open it up in the spring comes out In ten pieces,” she said as she describes the beauty in the work. ”It’s phenomenal they’re pretty!! They’re pretty even the insides are pretty and they’re covered in rust or paint and so you’re cleaning fifty or sixty or seventy years of gunk and then you get it working!” she said. “The customer is like ‘I can’t believe you did that!’”
When Charity is not working she’s a busy mom.
“I do have three kids who think it’s great that I’m a locksmith and think I can break in anywhere,” she jokes. “They have a lot of fun with that.”
She hopes to show them with hard work and practice they can break down barriers and push through any door in any field they choose.
“I say there is nothing more fun than walking in on someone who thinks you’re not going to be able to do the job and doing a beautifully the look on their face when you’re like ‘it’s done and it’s done right and it’s done well’. It’s a great feeling,” she said. “It’s also a great feeling to be able to look at someone who thinks you can’t do it and be like, ‘no I’m actually really good at this so let me just show you my gender doesn’t matter here.”
Charity says she has fun collecting unique keys for her kids and they love asking if she’s met any celebrities or cool dogs. Her husband is a plumber.
She says there’s definite job security in their chosen skills.
According to the Montana Department of Labor & Industry, apprenticeship programs build loyalty between the employees and their employer. Charity says that has definitely been her experience. She works at Dave’s Lock & Key in Bozeman.
The department also says apprenticeship programs are expanding into some non-traditional fields such as manufacturing, healthcare, and IT.
For all apprenticeship programs in Montana, three out of four employees are still working for their original employer, and nine out of ten are still right here in Montana. They say that is a big plus especially to prevent a labor shortage at a time like right now when so many industries face that concern.