Megan Trail—On Constructing Her Career from the Ground Up

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Although Megan Trail would say one of her biggest challenges as a CEC student was figuring out who she wanted to be, that struggle no longer shows as she sits poised in her 30-year-old self.

At this point, secure in her career as a master carpenter, surveyor, and construction teacher, Megan can look back at her uncertainty as a high school senior and laugh. Now she exudes a confidence, long in the making but worth the struggle.

As a high school student, Megan was drawn to careers one might label as non-traditional for a young woman. She spent her semesters at CEC trading off between the construction and welding career classes. And though she was certainly a minority in her fields of choice, through her determination and connecting with her teacher/ mentor, Mr. Bell, who was the construction teacher prior to being one of CEC’s assistant principals, Megan followed her interests and talents, even when she felt unsure or didn’t know where her path would lead.

Construction runs in Megan’s family—her father is a master carpenter and her brother a jack-of-all trades, so perhaps he skill is in her genes, but it was at school where she actually learned the skills that would bring her to where she is today.

As a high school senior, it was time to begin planning for her next step and having had several semesters of her career classes under her belt, she decided to venture out into the “real world.” But what counted as her senior year internship, happened to be an actual job with the Mortenson Construction Company. Mr. Bell helped her land the interview, but after that she won her superiors over with her skill, work ethic and perseverance.

At first, no one on the job thought she’d last. “I started out as a laborer apprentice. All the bosses thought I’d only last weeks or months. They had bets out on me,” she said of their certainty that she would not last. “I was a hundred pounds soaking wet and was a young girl and there were no other females on the jobsite at the time and about 300 guys. They didn’t think I’d make it through the winter.”

To be honest, Megan admits, “the first three months I hated it because the weather was hard. But my mom told me I couldn’t quit for five years. So if I didn’t like it after five years, then she’d be okay with me quitting,” Megan says of her inspiration to keep going.

Although the five years was perhaps an exaggerated way to say, “give the job a chance,” Megan followed through with her commitment to the company, her mom, Mr. Bell and herself. And to her surprise, that persistence, even in the face of the challenges of weather, gender and inexperience, paid off in ways she never expected.

“Three months into her job, the superintendent offered her the opportunity to start an apprenticeship program to get her Journeyman’s license as a carpenter. She didn’t have much time to think about it, because the course started that same day, but she couldn’t turn her back on such a great opportunity. It meant that she would be doing an internship, apprenticeship going to high school and working full-time all at the same time, but those opportunities combined were the catalyst that propelled her to where she is today. Twelve years later, she is a licensed carpenter, surveyor and now teaches in the very apprenticeship program where she once was a student.

“At graduation the teachers gave each student a quote. Mr. Bell gave me mine and it said, Anything you can do, I can do, but I can do it better. So I had the mentality of wanting to be better than the person in front of me.” Megan has lived up to this sentiment in many ways, but three of her secrets come immediately to her mind as she has worked her way through the early years of her career:

1) “I have stayed true to myself. I put boundaries on how people treated me, and I treated others the way I wanted to be treated. Younger people often just go with the flow and what’s normal, but I wasn’t afraid of voicing my opinion.”

2) “What I learned in construction is that one of the main things to do to be better than everybody else was to show up on time every day and that was the hardest thing for a lot of people to do. But that was the easiest thing for me to do because I came from high school and was used to being to class at a certain time. It was easy for me to be punctual. And that’s what got me through six major layoffs. I might not have been the strongest or the smartest at my trade, or the fastest, but they knew I was going to show up so they kept me because they knew I’d be there tomorrow even though I wasn’t the best at what I did. Which I do believe now I am the best at what I do.”

Megan’s final secret—a piece of advice to share with all CEC students, and which she believes in wholeheartedly—

3) “Never say no to an opportunity, even if it’s an opportunity you don’t think you’ll want. At least try it. If something is handed to you, you can’t really go wrong with it.”

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