Melissa grew up in a small town of New Mexico, and moved to Silicon Valley in 2002. She did well in high school and even graduated a year early.
Soon after she found her first job working at a mall outlet. She then transitioned into a management role at another retail store. But after working in retail for about 9 years, she came to realize that she did not enjoy what she was doing. She was making barely above the minimum wage, and her work schedule was never set until the week before, making it impossible to plan the steps that she wanted to take for her future.
Melissa decided that she could not continue doing what she was doing because it had no direction. She felt she could give so much more. So she left her retail job. She says, “I understand that it may not have been a mature decision, but I had to do something crazy drastic or I would still be there.”
“This program saved me for a million reasons. I don’t know where I would have been if I hadn’t done it.”
One day, while on Facebook, she saw an ad for the Trades Orientation Program. She was hesitant at first, but finally she called and made an appointment to speak to the program’s coordinator. After the discussion she realized this was the change that she needed in her life and that she had to do it.
Melissa’s grandfather was a carpenter, and when she was young, she would help him as a material handler. She enjoyed helping him very much. However, as she got older, she always thought that people who worked in construction were paid very little and had to work very hard. She felt sorry for them, without knowing that they were actually getting great pay. They got paid for the work that they did. The TOP class helped open her eyes to the realities of trades careers.
When she joined the program, Melissa knew that this was only the beginning and it was going to give her the avenue to choose what direction she wanted to go. She entered TOP with an open mind and decided to learn about all the trades before making her decision.
One of the things most surprising to her was that she went in with the initial impression that apprentices were just grunt workers, but quickly learned that once you get into construction, you are always learning and moving forward. A construction worker never really stays in one position. Not only do you get regular raises, there is always a next step.
Melissa also realized just how hard it was to get into a trades apprenticeship. She stresses that one of the most important things to remember for someone going into this career is that being on time is essential.
After graduating, Melissa decided to apply for the pre-apprenticeship program at the carpenters. She now makes over $25 per hour plus benefits — and gets paid to learn, which she loves.
When she was in retail it was a very hierarchical industry where they would only teach you if they felt you deserved it. As soon as she started working as an apprentice, she realized that she was consistently learning new things every day.
“Being in retail was far more stressful for far less money,” says Melissa. For her, working as a carpenter is far more rewarding emotionally and spiritually. She says, “It’s really not about the money, but the way it makes me feel at the end of the day, to think that I have created something.”
Melissa advises someone interested in the program to sit down and think about your past and your future. Even though it might seem really scary, it’s an opportunity. In the long run, what you’re going to do for yourself and your family in 10 or 20 years — you’re going to be laughing about it and say, “Oh, thank god.” Or 20 years from now, you might be saying, “I wish I would have done that.”