Memesha Davis, a graduate of William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School, had always wanted to work in a trade field since she was a teen. However, she was pressured by her family to take her high school culinary course.
“As a 14-year-old, a teenager, a young girl, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to make it in that field, so I ended up switching from HVAC into culinary arts cooking,” she tells CNBC Made It. “And that wasn’t my passion.”
The Brooklyn native and mother of two has since done every work one could think of: customer service, retail, hostess. In 2015, she was a hostess at Barclays Center’s 40/40 Club while also working on the side at her aunt’s restaurant.
Davis could not rely on those two jobs to take care of her family as her hours were limited and inconsistent, and without benefits. Consequently, she had to rely on Medicaid and food stamps to support her family.
“The year that I was working at the Barclays Center and with my aunt, I made maybe $13,000 for the year,” she says. “At the time, my son was 6, my daughter was 7. Raising kids on that budget was painful because there will be times where they just want something that costs a dollar, but a dollar was like a stretch.”
Davis didn’t find those jobs fulfilling because they could not replace what she wanted to be in life: working in a trade or working with her hands. Fast forward to 2017, Davis got introduced to ironwork through Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW).
The platform trains and places women in careers in skilled construction, utility and maintenance trades. She describes getting trained in ironwork as a game changer which gave her back her confidence and she went from “I can’t do to I know I can.”
Davis says she wished she had pursued ironworking sooner adding that it has given her fresh air. This is “because going from $15 an hour, maybe eight hours a week, to actually having some type of consistency, definitely changed everything for me,” she explains.
In her previous jobs, Davis made $13,000 a year but she is on course to make $100K a year as an ironworker. “It’s a drastic change,” acknowledges.
“And there’s also, the benefits that I receive from ironwork — the health benefits. Now, I have a pension to look forward to when I retire. They have a scholarship fund for my kids.”
Working as an ironworker has seen her work on some of New York’s imposing structures and skyscrapers. One of such is One Vanderbilt, a 67-floor skyscraper in midtown Manhattan.
“I remember working at One Vanderbilt and looking across the way and seeing the Chrysler building. And I’m like, ’Wow, I’m making history, but I’m also looking at history,” she says.