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Humans of Manufacturing

Metal Grinder Overcomes Fears, Perseveres to Secure a Good Life for Her Family

Sam Robinson has Grown Stronger, More Confident Thanks to West Virginia Women Work Pre-Apprenticeship Program

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For Samantha “Sam” Robinson, the West Virginia Women Work (WVWW) Pre-Apprenticeship program in manufacturing gave her new confidence in her abilities to provide for her four young children—ages six, five, three, and nine months.

“The program reminded me I could be more than what my situation provided—that I was able to do more and excel at it,” she explained.

Newly separated, Robinson is still adjusting to her new life. A self-described loner, she knew she had to pluck up the courage to move forward after the abrupt change in her family life. “I knew I needed to do something for my kids, to better my life and theirs,” she recalled.

After seeing a post on Facebook, Robinson made a call to the WVWW and asked about its pre-apprenticeship program in manufacturing, which operates in conjunction with the Robert C. Byrd Institute and includes flexible online workforce education from Tooling U-SME and hands-on training from the RCBI machine shop.

“To think about the interview was nerve-wracking!” Robinson noted. “It took a lot of stepping up, but I did it, and I got into the program.”

She started classes in May 2017. By her own account, she is mechanically inclined and she learned very fast. Focusing on lathe and millwork, Robinson reviewed the Tooling U-SME classes prior to going into the lab. “I wanted to familiarize myself with the equipment before I got to class—it made things easier,” she said.

Robinson got to know the other women in the program, made a few friends and rose to the top of her class. She also won a trophy in a competition that involved following a blueprint and completing a project on the lathe and mill in one day. Her life was getting better.

By the time she graduated from the program in August 2017, Robinson was already interviewing for jobs. She was put on a wait list at Huntington, W.Va.-based Special Metals Co., a 130-acre campus for the development, production and sales of high-nickel alloys for critical engineering. Robinson impressed the company so much that she was hired two weeks prior to the opening start date.

“I was excited and nervous at the same time; it's not like me to step out and do something different,” she noted.

Currently a Level 6 stocker and a Level 8 grinder, Robinson is making close to $16 per hour with additional overtime pay. She intends to reach the highest level as a grinder. “There are five grinders here,” she said, “and I want to learn each one and move on up.” She also can drive a forklift and run a crane.

“Step out! Step up! Be better than the world sees you because you are. Without West Virginia Women Work, I know I wouldn't be where I am today. I don't have to worry about my kids anymore. I’m a stronger person than I was six months ago.”
Sam Robinson

The company provides vacation pay, all health benefits and new equipment every year. Robinson plans to take advantage of Special Metals’ tiered system to bid for open jobs. “If you get the job, they will fully train you and move you right up the ladder,” she said.

The favorite part of her job? Learning to do something new, and having the means to take care of her children and regular work hours, so she can spend time with them.

“It feels awesome that I can provide for my children without working all the time,” she said. “I don't have to choose between time with them or working because something is due.”

Working in a male-dominated industry, Robinson has received some pushback, but she doesn’t let it deter her from the job. “They may give me a few reasons I can't do something, but they don't realize they just made me want to show them I can do it—and will do it better,” she explained.

It took a lot of strength for Robinson to overcome her fears and persevere to secure a good life for her family and her kids. She has become independent and more confident, and loves her job.

“It's pretty cool knowing the metal I look at every day will be turned into something important someday,” Robinson said.

When asked what she would say to others thinking about the program, she said, “Step out. Step up! Be better than the world sees you because you are. The sky’s the limit! Without West Virginia Women Work, I know I wouldn't be where I am today. I don't have to worry about my kids anymore. I’m a stronger person than I was six months ago.”