If you think the trades are just for men, think again. And if you think college is the only rewarding career pathway, think a third time. Emily Sjostrom, college graduate and now apprentice ironworker, is here to change your mind.
At first glance, Emily might seem like a normal Millennial woman. Petite and reserved, she’s earned two BAs, studied abroad and worked in a coffee shop after graduating. A career in the growing but demanding field of ironworking was never on her radar.
The struggle to find work commensurate with a college education is all too common. “At the coffee shop where I was working when I applied for my apprenticeship, almost everyone had a BA, and a couple had advanced degrees,” she recalls.
“Having a degree can be a valuable tool, but it doesn't set you apart from the crowd the way it used to.”
College: the good, the bad and the ugly
While it can be a valuable pathway for many, college does require significant time and financial commitments. “These are major drawbacks for me, especially considering that I’m not using either of my degrees and will still be paying them off for years to come,” Emily says.
But despite the downsides, Emily’s college experience overall was a positive one. “I learned to take more risks, push myself and how to fail and come back stronger,” she says. The ability to experience a new culture was another major benefit. “I moved to South Africa to study theater for six months and also traveled to Zambia, Botswana and Namibia while I was there,” she says. “I didn't know a soul there, no one else from my college was going that semester, I had never traveled on my own before, I had never even been on a plane before. I just went.
“It was a formative time in my life and one of the best decisions I've ever made; I would never have made such a dramatic change in my life if it wasn't offered through my school.”
Perhaps that leap of faith prepared Emily for an even bigger change in a few years—when she would set aside her degrees to jump headfirst into the male-dominated field of ironworking.
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