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Finding a Passion in Welding: Associate Profile on Architectural Metal Welder Melanie McNeil

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Even though welding hasn’t always been a common career for a woman, that didn’t stop Melanie McNeil from pursuing - and excelling in - this challenging trade.

Growing up, Melanie was around the trades through her family. Her dad was an operator for Local 101, her uncle was also an operator, and her grandfather was a union mechanic.

When she was in high school, her dad suggested she try welding. She thought it sounded interesting, so she gave it a shot, taking welding classes at the local Vo-Tech school.

And it turns out, she had quite a knack for it.

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“It seemed to come easy for me,” Melanie said. “I got pretty good at it, and soon I was taking first place in welding competitions."

After high school she got a job doing aluminum welding for a furniture manufacturing company.

Her family thought she should become a pipe fitter, so she applied to Local 533 and began an apprenticeship, but she didn’t stick with it to completion.

“I was young and didn’t understand the dynamics of how to get along with everyone and at the time,” Melanie recalled. “I also didn’t comprehend what I was walking away from!”

She spent the next several years having a family and raising her three children, until tragedy struck.

When her children were just five, four and two, their house burned down, and Melanie needed to find a job that paid well – fast.

“Since I had welding experience, I took the phone book and started driving around to all the local unions looking for a job,” she said.

“I wasn’t going to go home until I found one.”

That same day, Melanie was offered a job from Sheet Metal Local 2.

She started as a pre-apprentice, moving up to apprentice two weeks later, and the rest is history: Melanie has been a sheet metal worker for more than 25 years now.

Anyone in the trades knows it can take a physical toll, but Melanie says she’s managing.

“What I do can be physically challenging, but there is equipment available to help move heavy objects, or it’s done with teamwork, so I haven’t found it to be a problem,” Melanie said.

Being a female in the trade can also present challenges.

Melanie says she has encountered companies that simply weren’t open to hiring females because they think women aren’t as capable or might cause “issues” in the workplace.

“I’ve gotten around these biases, because my male coworkers have been willing to talk to management and put in a good word for me,” Melanie said.

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“Once I’ve gotten my foot in the door, I let my work stand as a testament that they’ve made the right decision to hire me.”

Melanie hopes her contributions can change attitudes about hiring other females in the future as well.

That’s exactly what happened when she was hired in the P1 Architectural Metal division.

General Shop Foreman Bobby Vestal had worked with Melanie in the past, so when she applied to work for P1, he didn’t hesitate to hire her.

“I worked with Melanie several years ago at another company, and I was really impressed with her work ethic and skill. She fits right in with the team and is an asset to P1,” Bobby said.

Melanie’s passion for her work keeps her going.

“I love to build things and it’s really rewarding to look at a completed job and know that I helped create it,” she said.

This is her advice to women considering a job in trades: “Most women could do this type of work if they put their mind to it, and many don’t realize that the option is out there for them,” she said.

“Women shouldn’t hold themselves back. If the trades are something you are interested in, go for it!”

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When Melanie has free time, she loves growing plants and does it all year around.

“I have all kinds of potted plants and I bring them all indoors during the winter. During the summer I also grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers in buckets,” Melanie said.

She also likes to get out and go to farmer’s markets. She enjoys the City Market in downtown Kansas City, but is anxious to check out some of the smaller ones in the suburbs this summer.

Her children are all grown, but she has three fur babies to keep her company: two dogs and a cat.

Leduex is a Shepherd, Cinnamon is an Irish Doodle, and the kitty’s name is Miss Sage.

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