Wendi Czirr, Journey Worker Plant Maintenance, Offers Career Advice to Women Interested in Exploring Jobs in Manufacturing
“Seek out opportunities that you might think are closed to a woman.”
So says Wendi Czirr, of WestRock in Solvay, NY, when asked, “What career advice would you offer high school girls?”
As MACNY’s first female Journey Worker in a four-year Advanced Manufacturing trade since 2018, Wendi is living proof of the kind of success that women can achieve by opting for non-traditional pathways. Her co-workers and managers at WestRock recently celebrated (along with three other brand-new Journey Workers) her attainment of this nationally recognized credential. Wendi’s story is an inspiration.
Individuals enter Registered Apprenticeships for varying reasons, including free college credits for related technical instruction. Wendi’s motivation was to have enough money for a stable future. She accessed SUNY NYCAN funding to cover the cost of trade-related Algebra at Onondaga Community College but already had a bachelor’s degree in public justice from SUNY Oswego. She was a certified Paralegal at the start of her training.
Before joining WestRock, she’d spent ten years as a Corrections Officer, followed by a stint as a Paralegal with a local attorney. While she enjoyed the job, the salary was insufficient to sustain herself and her two children. When she saw that WestRock was hiring at $20/hour for production line workers, Wendi made her move.
Registered Apprenticeship was not a foreign concept to Wendi; her father was a Journey Worker Industrial Electrician. When WestRock offered her the opportunity to test for inclusion in the Registered Apprenticeship program, Wendi’s dad was all for it, touting the proposal as an excellent opportunity for a high-demand career, one she should not pass up. She now says that if she’d had this chance sooner, she’d have skipped college and gone straight into Registered Apprenticeship.
Wendi’s most compelling testimony is that this pathway has allowed her to do something worthwhile outside of her day-to-day work that she would not have been able to do otherwise. Apprenticeship has brought her “more opportunities than just work.” It allows her the capacity to self-fund (donations accepted!) her non-profit, Whispering Woods Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, found on Facebook.
Wendi holds the exclusive DEC license within the region from the Canadian border down to Cortland in the south, extending westward to Rochester and eastward to Rome, making her the sole provider of this specialized service in this extensive area. Harboring a soft spot for baby raccoons since she was a child, Wendi speculates that her father (who passed away when she was two months into her Apprenticeship) may be up there sending her signals that she’s on the right path. She now makes two times the money she made with her degree, and she gets to devote some of that to as many baby raccoons as she can handle.
On the job, Wendi derives much satisfaction from her WestRock managers seeking her out for “side tangents,” demonstrating their faith in her skills. She might counsel a student that Registered Apprenticeship is a commitment, but “if you don’t do it, you won’t get there!”