There is the saying that when you know, you know! Well, we have two apprentices that knew the art of welding was their destiny. Each apprentice has utilized their welding skills to take them down their own career paths, but they both started off as Ironworkers.
Clinton Barrett, a fourth-year plumbing apprentice with Hooper Corporation, spent nearly 20 years as an Ironworker before transitioning his career to plumbing in 2017.
“The company I was currently employed by was closing their doors, so I thought, now was my best time to start something new,” explained Barrett.
Barrett learned of the five-year plumbing apprenticeship through his business agent in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and thought he would investigate it. He had been a hands-on person since graduating high school and having worked in the metal industry for many years, he had previous knowledge about fittings and numbers so plumbing was a good fit.
Aside from his company shutting down, what made Barrett want to change from an Ironworker to a Plumber?
“The benefits were a huge deal breaker, and (looking for) a change in life,” explained Barrett. “(I had been) welding for 20 years, so change was looking good.”
Even though Barrett still uses his welding experience on the job for Hooper Corporation, he quickly realized that there was a lot to learn about plumbing than he initially thought.
“At first thought, it would be easy schooling,” shared Barrett. “Boy, was I wrong! Not to scare (anyone, but it) shows how much really is involved in the plumbing system. (Overall), the whole apprenticeship went pretty fast, and the schooling made it really nice to work through.”
Following his apprenticeship, Barrett’s next goal is to write for his Master Plumbing License.
Megan Fish, a first-year steamfitter apprentice with General Heating and Air Conditioning, has a similar story as Barrett when it comes to how she got her start in the trades. Fish went to school for welding back in 2017 and knew her future was in the trades. Initially, she started out as an Ironworker, just like Barrett.
“While I was an Ironworker in my OSHA 30 class, the instructor started the class by asking each one of us why we started as an ironworker,” Fish explained. “When he asked me, I said, ‘I want to weld, and I wanted to be in the trades.’ He then responded with, ‘Why didn’t you become a Steamfitter then?’ At that point, I didn’t even know what that was. I started researching and the people from Big Step helped me get squared away.”
Following some research on what it entails to be a Steamfitter, Fish found the pay and the decreased toll it would take on her body were more attractive than that of an Ironworker. A career in the trades is for the rest of your life so thinking long term and retirement was a key factor for her.
“The pay was much better as a Steamfitter, and it’s not as hard on the body as being an Ironworker, so it’s something I’d be more comfortable taking to retirement,” said Fish.
After learning more about her newfound trade, Fish knew she needed to make the switch. With welding at the forefront of her mind when she made the switch to become a Steamfitter, she quickly learned that there is a lot more to the career than just welding. Since the start of her apprenticeship, she has learned how to braze, solder, rig loads, pipe VAV boxes, and so many other things that she had never done before. She is also taking a lot of pride in being able to help other apprentices with her welding knowledge.
“One of the very first apprenticeship classes we take is welding,” said Fish. “Having the knowledge of welding has helped me stay ahead in class, and I’ve even had the opportunity to help other (apprentices) in our class with different weld techniques. I don’t think any of these guys ever thought they would have a girl help them weld or ask a girl for advice on welding.”
Both Barrett and Fish recognize the benefits of working for Union contracts including good wages, health benefits, and a pension.
“Even as a first-year apprentice, this is the most I’ve ever made and my pay is literally going to more than double in the next four years,” shared Fish. “The pension is going to set me up comfortably for my retirement years, and we have the best insurance you can get. There are almost no downfalls to this.”
Barrett’s advice to someone looking to start a career in plumbing is to start early so you can earn more money in your pension to plan for retirement. Fish’s advice for future Steamfitters is to be patient as it may take some time to start an apprenticeship, but it is worth the wait!
There is usually not a traditional path to becoming an apprentice in the trades. Some individuals start right out of high school, and others change careers to become tradesmen and tradeswomen in their respective fields. Both Barrett and Fish took their welding experience and ironwork background to be successful in their respective apprenticeships. The future is bright for both of these apprentices!
For more information on apprenticeships, visit the following websites:
Mechanical Industries Center’s website http://www.mechanicalindustries.org/
Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards’ website https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/apprenticeship/
Plumbers Local 75’s website https://www.plumbers75.com/
Steamfitters Local 601’s website https://www.steam601.org/
Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association’s website http://www.wipipetrades.org