Makenzi O.

Apprentice Electrician

What do you do when the traditional college path isn’t the right path for you? That was a question I had to answer for myself as I stood on the cusp of my high school graduation. At the time, I had a mailbox full of full-ride scholarship offers from colleges and universities all over the country, thanks to the fact that my career as a high school wrestler had featured a fourth-place finish at nationals. I could have had my pick of schools, but there was a problem: As I combed through the degree paths at all those universities, I couldn’t find a single thing that interested me. I thought, “Why would I want to spend four years getting a degree I don’t really want?”

Asking that question got me thinking seriously about what I did want to spend my life doing, which eventually led me to the skilled trades. I knew I loved hands-on work, and when I started reading about the electrical trades, it seemed like a match with my interests. Being an electrician sounded like just the right mix of mental and physical challenges that I was looking for.

After finishing up my senior year at Benzie Central High School, I started applying for electrical jobs at every company I could find within a 60-mile radius. But because I was young and inexperienced, it was pretty clear that no one wanted to give me a chance. Then Windemuller took me right in without hesitation and gave me the opportunity to learn. They didn’t treat me differently because I was young, or because I was a woman, or because I didn’t have a college degree yet. They saw potential, rather than what was already there.

Working at Windemuller has been a great learning experience. The size and reach of this company mean that you get to learn from so many different people who do so many different things, and who bring so many different experiences and pieces of knowledge to the table. I feel fortunate that I get to take all of that and apply it to my own career journey.

I’ve also had the opportunity to take what I’ve learned and start passing it on to the next generation of electrical trades professionals. Even though I’m still an apprentice myself, I’ve been able to step into a role as an instructor at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, teaching residential electrical. The job has not just been an awesome way to keep me sharp on the tenets of electrical code, but it’s also a chance to grow this profession among younger people. I’m a fourth-year apprentice, but there aren’t a lot of first-years or second-years at Windemuller right now. There simply aren’t many new people coming into this profession. Teaching at NMC, I feel like I’m helping advertise the electrical trades myself. Being both a young person and a woman, I can show people that there are career options in this field for anyone.

There’s also something cool about being in the classroom after the path I’ve taken. I attended that same NMC program. I loved being a student in those classes, and I love being on the other side of it now, as an instructor. It reminds me of those days sifting through offers from four-year universities and trying to find a program or major that felt like a good fit. These days, I feel pretty confident that I found the right fit eventually, and I’m thankful every day that I didn’t take the path that all the conventional wisdom said I should.