Women in the Woods: Michelle Skjei

michelle-4
Michelle Skjei – Lead Electrician, Hampton Lumber

Michelle Skjei doesn’t take no for an answer. She turned a temporary job in July of 2005 to supplement her three boys’ school clothes into a permanent career that she loves.  Michelle is currently an accomplished Journey-Level Lead Electrician for Hampton Lumber, and she admits the journey hasn’t been easy.

“Coming into my apprenticeship, I was scared that I couldn’t do the job physically or mentally.  I was also afraid that the men in the field wouldn’t take me seriously.  However, I have had nothing but positive interactions with Hampton and my colleagues.  We all respect each other and get the job at hand done daily. It was a very hard journey with three kids and a husband but one that I will never regret.”

Michelle’s journey began in 2005 when she was assigned to Hampton through a temp agency. She enjoyed the job as she was being trained to work in different areas of the mill. Michelle stuck with it and was hired permanently in 2006 and found she loved the challenge. During this time, Hampton was hiring for electrical apprentices. She was nervous about applying, largely because she hadn’t been at Hampton that long and at the time, there were no women in the maintenance department.

After speaking with her supervisor who encouraged her to apply, Michelle went through a panel interview process with about 15 other employees. There were only three spots open, and unfortunately, she was not one of the three chosen.

Michelle was disappointed. She knew she could do the job, and it would be a positive change for her family – she wanted a career she could grow with, not just a job.

However, a week later one of the three people chosen backed out.  Michelle wasted no time, approached the electrical supervisor, and asked for a chance. Even with uncertainty about the number of positions and options, Michelle wasn’t deterred.  Daily she went in search of the electrical supervisor to plead her case of why she was the right person for the job.

Finally, her persistence paid off.  Michelle interviewed for the third position along with two others and all were given a chance to come in and work with the electricians. Michelle was selected in 2007 and completed the journey-level status of Plant Journeyman in 2012 after passing the state exam and finishing four years of college.

Once she began her apprenticeship, giving up was not an option. Michelle says that not only does she loves what she does, it was also important to see it through as she had three young men watching her. Succeeding, to her, was the only option. Michelle wanted to demonstrate to her boys that hard work and persistence pay off and lead toto major life accomplishments, personally and professionally.

With her unique set of accomplishments in the forest products industry, where does Michelle see opportunity for more involvement by women? She says, “I believe it is a great opportunity for any woman to get into the wood/forestry industry. There are many jobs women can do in the mill. Advanced technology has made many jobs at the mill semi-automated, making the operation more streamlined than in the “old” days.”

michelle-2

Michelle’s goal in leaving her legacy at Hampton, and in her community, is simple: to show women not to be afraid to go outside of their comfort zones, to always push yourself to do better than you did yesterday, and to keep trying even after being told no.  She says she’s the prime example of that philosophy that’s contagious in the forest products industry – never give up.