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Grit drives Mecosta County woman to get Michigan’s top construction apprentice award

Grit drives Mecosta County woman to get Michigan’s top construction apprentice award

HOWELL, Mich. – One word keeps coming up to explain Danielle Athey’s drive to succeed.


Recently, the Michigan Apprentice Steering Committee Inc. (MASCI) named Athey, a member of Operating Engineers 324, Michigan’s 2020 Apprentice of the Year in Construction.
“Danielle stands as a role model for all apprentices,” said Mark Zinser, OE324 Apprenticeship Coordinator. “All the apprentices need to have the grit that she has.”

Athey was going to college and trying to find a career path. But she found herself uninspired with the paths offered, and her student debt accumulating. One day, some people she knew invited her to check out heavy construction equipment at a job site. They cleared the visit with the site supervisors and made sure Athey could observe safely.
That changed her life.

“I was really, really into it – more than I expected,” Athey said. “I went and filled out my paperwork and did all the things I needed to do. I knew I’d found something I could do for the rest of my life.”

As a woman starting a career in construction, Athey says she had no idea what to expect. At the same time, she credits her fellow operating engineers – men and women – for being supportive as she develops her career. She sees them as family, always encouraging her to learn and do more. That sense of expanding her horizons is what Athey finds rewarding.

“I have been on different types of projects,” she said. “I’ve worked on heavy highway road projects, and at a landfill. I’ve worked on a pipeline. I have met so many different people who have helped me along the way. It’s really cool knowing these different kinds of things.”

Athey’s drive set her apart from Day One. Zinser recalls the day he signed her up. He said Athey offered to do more work, take part in more projects at the training site, and volunteer for career fairs.

Zinser said he can explain Athey’s success in four words: “Hard work, determination, and dedication. I’ve been out here (as an instructor) for 20 years, and she’s right up there with a handful of people that live those words.”

M&M Excavating was one of the first companies to hire Athey. In her first year, Athey had already demonstrated technical skill and knowledge. When Athey came back to work at M&M a year later, Brandie Meisner, M&M Excavating CFO, saw how much she had improved and developed her abilities and knowledge in such a short time.

“Danielle is a great example of an apprentice because she has grit,” Meisner said. “She has the desire to get the job done and move forward.”

Douglas W. Stockwell, OE324 Business Manager, said: “Danielle deserves this recognition because she truly is the gold standard for what an operating engineer should be. Watching her get this award is a big honor and a testament to our commitment to prepare our apprentices to be productive, highly skilled and the best trained workers in our industry. It reflects what an exceptional individual Danielle is, from the time she started out as an apprentice, working hard and showing determination every step of the way, to where she is now: respected and in-demand in the construction industry.”

Athey said she remains grateful for her education, her apprenticeship and her time at OE324’s Construction Career Center. Even though Athey has graduated, she’s already planning to take up new courses at the center with the goal of further developing her skills and knowledge.

Her advice to young men and women considering an apprenticeship in construction: “I would tell them, ‘Don’t give up.’ They need to always try to succeed. It will always challenge you. But it’s definitely worth it in the long run.”

OE324’s apprenticeship program is a 6,000-hour program, with 600 hours spent in classrooms. To qualify for the apprenticeship program, individuals must have a valid driver’s license a high school diploma or a GED.

Registered Apprenticeships provide good wages that increase annually, using an ‘earn while you learn’ model. They put OE 324 members on a career track to remain competitive and sought-after in a high-demand field. Apprenticeships are special partnerships jointly funded by OE324 and employers and business partners in a training fund.

Apprentices are eligible for benefits enjoyed by all OE324, including health insurance, pensions and access to union training programs. Training opportunities and employment are open to all, regardless of race, sex, creed, color, religion, or national origin.

MASCI is a collaboration of businesses, labor organizations, government, education, policymakers and members of the public.

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