As a child, cozying up for an episode of “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe” felt like home for twenty-four year old Victoria Knight, owner of Hard Hats and Heels in Niles, Michigan.
Yes. That TV show from the early 2000’s where the host, Mike, traveled around America showcasing the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs felt like home for her. It was made to shock people but for Victoria, the very premise of the show, watching him out on the open road, traveling to less desirable places and performing jobs that go unappreciated by most, brought her comfort and solace. It felt akin to her childhood full of memories playing in the dirt, hanging out with her crew of boy cousins, and enjoying the company of her best friend, her Grandpa.
Additionally, as an only child, she grew up missing her father often. He was a semi-truck driver and was gone most weeks out of the year. “He actually resembles my Dad”, says Victoria of host Mike Rowe, “his attitude and demeanor reminds me of him too. So, watching Dirty Jobs brought a piece of my Dad home to me,” she reminisces. Little did she know that her on screen hero, Mike Rowe, would prove to be more than a favorite TV host but an advocate for her endeavors later in life to pursue a career in construction.
FINDING HER WAY
After graduating from High School, Victoria did what was expected of her and went away to college to pursue nursing. Her grades were great, and she looked forward to an honorable profession. However, “I looked ahead into the future and realized this was going to put me 80k plus in debt”, she recalls, “I just knew that twenty years from now, I’m not going to be happy doing this job.”
So, in 2016, Victoria moved back to her hometown of Niles, Michigan. She had no intention of slowing down, so she enrolled at her local community college, Southwestern Michigan, to explore other options. Then one day, her good friend and now business partner approached her about a program at their school. It was a Construction Trades in Green Technologies Program. “She came running up to me one day and was like, ‘This is you! It’s everything you’ve ever talked about and wanted to do. You have to enroll’,” Victoria laughs and admits, “she was right. She’s actually been a huge influence on me pursuing my dreams.” Realizing that this was what she wanted to do, she told her parents who, at the time, were not on board with the career path. “They were worried about my safety, both emotionally and physically”, she says, “but I told them, I am confident I can learn to build just as good as anyone else.”
PURSUING HER DREAM
And so, Victoria enrolled and to her surprise found six other women who enrolled in the class with her. “My teacher told me it was the first time it ever happened at the program.” Not only was the demographic encouraging but her teacher has since become a mentor and good friend.
While enrolled in classes, Victoria learned of a scholarship program launched by the Mike Rowe Works Foundation that would reward students with a good work ethic by covering a large portion of their trades education costs. In order to apply, all applicants must sign the S.W.E.A.T. pledge, which stands for “Skills and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo.” According to his website, “It’s a collection of beliefs that outlines the importance of work ethic, personal responsibility, delayed gratification, and a positive attitude…” Check, check, check, check and check.
Victoria applied and won the scholarship. “It was so cool!”, she exclaims. It only solidified the ever-present positive influence Mike Rowe has had on her life.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Victoria is set on paying her good fortune forward and embracing the supportive community that surrounds her. Since graduating with her associates degree in building technologies, she has set up a scholarship fund, which is funded through the sale of t-shirts, to help students with their tuition.
She also set up an apprenticeship program in conjunction with her alma mater. “I’ve got 4 apprentices that work with me now.” And although she admits she’s never been the girly type to be “ra-ra females”, she says, “I’m proud to say three of the four apprentices I have are women.” Between her four apprentices and her real estate partner boyfriend, Victoria has had an exorbitant amount of work just within her first year of business. She launched Hard Hats and Heels in March 2019 and has brought in so much work that she realized quickly she needed office space to meet with clients and handle administrative tasks. So again, in the community spirit that follows her, she landed a sweet deal with the owner of a multi-use historical property. “We agreed that I would renovate and provide construction services in exchange for very low rent,” she explains, “it’s great because the other tenants are accountants, interior designers and realtors so we all help each other.”
FORGING HER OWN PATH
Victoria has found so much fulfillment within her first years in the industry. Her love for every aspect of building shines through her work. So much so, when asked her favorite trade, she admits it is hard to choose. “From framing, to finish work and painting, I love every aspect of what I do.” With everything from tiny house builds, to historical restoration, to even custom arbors for weddings, there is no slowing down to serve the community she loves and share her passion with others. It’s a lot to take on at twenty-four years old but Victoria thrives in the fast lane. It's a path she forged with her own blood, sweat and tears. “I want to make sure everyone is happy, but I also have to make sure I'm happy too and construction makes me happy”.