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From the Earth to the Sky: Reaching New Heights with a Career in Ironworking

By Sophia Klein

Kinsey Neal, 24, graduated from college with a degree in geology and sustainable community development and secured her dream job working with an environmental nonprofit.

Or, so she thought.

While it seemed that Neal had accomplished everything she wanted, a bounty of student debt left her feeling like she was carrying a huge weight everywhere she went.

“It was exactly what I always thought I would do, and I didn’t like it,” Neal said. “I was bored with the 9-5. My tasks were repetitive, and I didn’t see the results of my work actually making a difference in the world.”

Neal confided to her friends that she wanted to change her career. A few of her friends worked in construction and suggested Neal consider an apprenticeship with one of the construction trades.

“Thinking back on my hobbies, I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands,” Neal said. “I bake, quilt, knit – all tactile things that keep my brain active and produce tangible results. I didn’t know if an apprenticeship would be right for me, but I started to explore careers in construction to learn more about the benefits and pay of construction work.”

After computer research and a few phone calls, Neal joined the IronWorkers Local 512 and started her first of four years in an apprenticeship.

“I feel so at home as an ironworker,” Neal said. “I feel like I love my job every single day. I get to walk across giant steel beams in the sky.”

Besides finding her true passion in ironworking, Neal is equally impressed with the life her new career allows her to lead outside of work.

“All the people I’m working with are buying fun, new cars, and new houses, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh, what?’” said Neal. “Honestly, no one I know who went to college is buying their own house unless they have parents who can help them out. But that’s what people who work in the trades are doing.”

Building America with Iron

According to Neal, there are two main types of ironworkers — structural ironworkers and reinforcing ironworkers.

“Basically, everywhere in the world there’s concrete, but underneath it there’s rebar, and that’s what reinforcing ironworkers do,” Neal said. “I’m currently working as a structural ironworker, so we put up big steel beams. That’s where there’s a lot of welding, which is why I wanted to become an ironworker.”

For Neal, one of the best parts about ironworking is the satisfaction of looking out at a skyline and knowing she played a hand in its creation and longevity.

“Sometimes you take a step back, and if you’re on the roof of a really big building, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I am building America, I fully built this (project) and it’s going to be there for a long time,’” Neal said.

Finding Community in the Union

A bonus to finding a career she was passionate about was the community that came with joining a union.

“When you go to meetings, everyone calls you brother or sister,” Neal said. “The bond you have creates a supportive work environment for people of every background.”

Neal wants high school students to consider the trades as a legitimate career path and she believes the construction trades have something for everyone.

“I have always been academically focused — honors classes, clubs, and I was student body president,” Neal said. “The trades are a community that accepts people of all backgrounds, passions and education experience. Unions are invested in your growth; they want you to succeed, and they’ll pay you to complete your apprenticeship and teach you everything you need to know.”

Interested in more information about a rewarding career in construction?

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