Kayleen's story: From building fences to building a successful career in construction - and helping others do the samePearson | April 23, 2020 in Higher Education, Professional
A Famous Face
If you’ve ever watched the DIY Network on television, Kayleen McCabe’s is a face you may recognize.
She is the host and star of “Rescue Renovation,” a show that helps homeowners who are in over their heads. Renovation projects turn from disastrous “befores” into jaw-dropping “afters.”
When Kayleen is not in front of the camera, she’s traveling the country telling students the story of how her long-time construction hobby turned into a successful career.
Growing up different
“As a little girl, I was always building stuff with my hands,” Kayleen says.
“My dad was a welder by trade, so I learned a lot of what I know from him.”
“We did repairs around the house, built fences, and worked on cars together.”
“I didn’t realize how unique that was until high school,” Kayleen says.
Kayleen says most of her classmates had no idea what they wanted to do after graduation.
Kayleen was different.
“I knew, even then, that I wanted to work in the construction trades,” she says.
Trusting her instincts
Although knew she wanted a career in construction, Kayleen didn’t enroll in trade school after high school.
“I made good grades,” she says, “and I felt pressure to do what the other ‘good students’ did: go to college.”
One year and two schools (Red Rocks Community College and Colorado State University) later, Kayleen called her parents with some news that ultimately wasn’t a surprise to them: college wasn’t for her.
“I could’ve saved a lot of tuition money by following that instinct earlier,” Kayleen says.
“I am so grateful that when I eventually did, my parents were supportive.”
The first foray into television
Shortly after graduating from high school, Kayleen says, her cousin called her with a proposition.
“She was a producer on the TV show ‘Trading Spaces.’”
“She knew I liked working with my hands, and she said she could help me get a production assistant job.”
From her very first day on the set, Kayleen says she was hooked.
“I would bounce of out of bed at 5 am, vibrating with excitement about whatever we got to build next.”
“It was the first time I fell in love.”
The mentor of all mentors
On the set of “Trading Spaces,” Kayleen met a master craftsman named Frank.
“He was this grumpy-looking older guy with a big bushy mustache that was permanently stained from tobacco,” Kayleen says.
“But he taught me more than I could ever explain.”
“I could ask him anything, and he encouraged me to learn, to try, and most importantly, to fail,” Kayleen says.
“Being in an environment where I felt so safe to do that was the best gift I ever received.”
“Learning the way that I did—on the job—was more of an education than I could ever have gotten from going to college.”
“Rescue Renovation” is currently in its fifth season on TV.
Kayleen says she is immensely grateful for her continued success—especially in a field that is traditionally dominated by men.
“When the show first started, I was one of the only female hosts on our channel—or any other one.”
“It’s different now, and I cannot wait for that to keep changing.”
When she travels for her show, Kayleen says, she is often able to help drive that change.
“I like to leverage a plane ticket as much as possible.”
“I’ll find out what schools are close to the airport and call them up. I say, ‘Hi, I’m a woman in the trades, can I come talk to your kids about career opportunities in my field?’”
“To the best of my ability,” Kayleen says, “I will continue to leverage what fame I’ve garnered to help recruit more and more young women into the construction trades.”
Connecting with audiences on smaller screens, too
In her spare time, Kayleen produces short, instructional videos for her followers and fans. She hosts them on her personal web page.
Topics range from cabinet building, to clamps and fasteners, to drill skills.
“I want to get them into the hands of middle and high school teachers so they can show their kids what working in the trades is really like.”
“Growing up, my teachers had nothing like that. In terms of recruitment, I think it could be game-changing.”
Something to strive for
Kayleen says she is constantly thinking about the future—for herself and for construction trades overall.
“I want to double the number of students I talk to every year … until that becomes impossible.”
Already this year, Kayleen has made incredible progress towards her goal. She has trips planned to Indiana, Ontario, Nebraska, Arizona, Kentucky, Nevada, Abu Dhabi, and Mississippi—all in the next few months.
“Someday, I hope I am able to travel full-time, speaking to students and giving them scholarships to study the trades.”
“I want to be the Bill Gates of power tools,” Kayleen says.
“And my passport has a lot of room in it.”