Once I made the decision to enroll in trade school, the never-ending question I am asked is: “What made you want to go into carpentry?”
At first, I thought I was being asked “why is carpentry a good field to go into?” I could speak to this question extensively—as a trade worker, I earn great compensation and benefits. I am paid to learn, stay physically fit, and frequently get to spend the day outside. I get to travel all around my city, my state, and sometimes the country. I get to work with my hands while still using intellectual and creative problem-solving skills. I secured employment without accumulating student loan debt. The list goes on.
The further I get into my field however, I’m hearing this question as it is really being asked – with a sense of awe and a little bit of suspicion. “What made you want to go into carpentry?”
It’s a fair question, I suppose. People like me don’t fit the stereotypical portrait of what a carpenter looks like. To some, a carpenter looks like Bob the Builder with his hard hat, or maybe more like Bob Vila with his beard and flannel shirt. It’s rare that when you picture a carpenter in your mind, you’re picturing someone like me. I’m a young, white, 5’8, middle class woman with skinny arms. I love art, dance, and music. I wear jumpsuits, bright red nail polish, and funky earrings. If you passed me walking down the street, you wouldn’t guess that I’m a carpenter.
I’ve really reflected on my career since footwear and apparel company, Wolverine, asked me to join “Team Wolverine,” which aims to generate awareness about trade jobs and help close the skills gap through Project Bootstrap. I’m proud to not only be a female face to the otherwise male-dominated industry, but also to share how carpentry has taught me more about how to succeed and make a difference in this world more than any traditional education ever could.
Every day I find out I am smarter and stronger than I previously convinced myself. Learning carpentry has allowed me to build a sense of independence, self-reliance, and competence that I would not have found elsewhere. When things don’t go as planned, I work around the chaos and adapt to change and failure. Every day I must practice resilience, acceptance, and forgiveness.
As a member of Team Wolverine and a minority in my field, I get the opportunity to encourage everyone, including the men who have traditionally monopolized this job, to feel comfortable and respect working alongside women. Many of the tradesmen I have met have never worked alongside a female before. I have the opportunity to expose them to my unique perspective, and to learn from theirs. In the end, we build better stuff because of this.
As many female accomplishments have historically been dismissed and forgotten, I get to walk down the street, point at a house I helped build and say, “I made that.” From nothing, I made something that cannot go unseen or be washed away.
And that’s what made me want to go into carpentry.