How did you get into welding?
Cate: When I graduated high school, I actually had aspirations of becoming a respiratory therapist, and enrolled in a local college. At the same time, I got a request from my Aunt for a handmade bed frame. I searched for a place to take a welding class to make the frame, and I came upon The Foundry in Baltimore, which is a collaborative makerspace that offered industrial classes including metalworking. I instantly loved welding! I was three years into my respiratory therapy school and decided to leave to pursue a welding certification class. Some friends recommended I apply for a UA 5-Year Apprenticeship Training Program. In 2017, I was hired by Poole and Kent as a first-year apprentice and began working in their Fabrication Shop located in Baltimore. I’m now in my 3rd Year of the Apprenticeship Program and I absolutely love it.
Abby: I’ve always loved to travel and wanted to pursue a career in hospitality after high school. I was planning conferences and events at a hotel in Philadelphia when a friend casually asked if I would like to try welding. My father had mentioned it to me before in high school as well, but I always wrote it off because it never seemed interesting to me. So this time, I decided to take my friend up on her offer to try it. I immediately knew this was what I was meant to do. Researching welding programs, I found a local certification program in Baltimore and completed the course. I got a job working for an elevator company where I did work on water towers and cell towers roughly 150 feet high. Then, I was accepted into the same UA 5-Year Apprenticeship Training Program as Cate and was hired by Poole and Kent in 2018 and began working in their Fabrication Shop in Baltimore. I am now in my 2nd Year of the Apprenticeship Program. I couldn’t be happier with the career path I have chosen. Looking back, had I known what I know now, I would have started right out of high school.
What’s next for you both?
Abby: Well the current apprenticeship program we’re in is great! It’s through the Local 486 Plumbers and Steamfitters Union. Basically, we work during the day at Poole and Kent, then the union pays for us to go to school at night. After five years in the program, we’ll officially be journeymen. I just want to keep learning as much as I can and excel at what I do.
Cate: I don’t think people necessarily understand how much there is to learn in the trades – especially in the area of welding. It’s an insane amount of information. But there’s a ton of opportunity for growth in the field too. I personally want to keep welding, but if you want, you can be a job runner, a superintendent or a foreman. For example, at Poole and Kent, even careers in building information modeling is an option.
Why are you so passionate about this career?
Cate: I started as a helper and I would come in and sweep the floors and watch the guys on the positioner in Poole and Kent’s Fabrication Shop, just wondering how in the world they did that. And today, I’m actually working next to those same guys that I used to idolize. I’ve learned so much. I can essentially take the skills that I learned from welding and apply it to any other aspect of my life. As an example, I just bought a house and need to do some plumbing work. I don’t have to hire anyone to come and do that for me, I can do it myself. When I first started in the trades, I felt a bit overwhelmed, but after working with the team, I feel like I can do anything. I don’t always know how I’ll do it, but I’ll figure it out!
“I felt a bit overwhelmed, but after working with the team, I feel like I can do anything. I don’t always know how I’ll do it, but I’ll figure it out!”
What are some misperceptions people have about welding?
Abby: You don’t have to trade femininity for this type of work. A lot of people think that welding is for the stereotypical ‘big burly man.’ But that’s not true – you can still be very feminine and do this job. And I know it’s intimidating, but I think it’s because there’s not enough representation for young women. No one ever told me that women could be welders. Had I been exposed to the field in high school, I would have wanted to learn more about it. I’m excited that I now get to go speak with some youth groups and girl scout troops in the area and show them what I do. I want to continue to share my experiences so other young women can be informed of this career option.
“You don’t have to trade femininity for this type of work.”
How can we encourage more individuals to pursue the trades?
Abby: I think that trade careers need to be taken more seriously. It shouldn’t be viewed as a fallback option to college. My boss said to me, “Most everyone can get accepted into college. If you want to make it in a trade, you have to have drive.” You have to push yourself in the trades and you have to want to be here. You are working full time and going to school learning the craft at night – it’s a big commitment.
Cate: Agreed. I wasn’t even offered wood shop or any skilled trades in high school. But I know that if I had been introduced to this back then, I wouldn’t have wasted my time going to school for something that I wasn’t really passionate about. Trades need to be introduced at the high school level.
Abby: It’s never too late and it’s never too early to consider this as a career – especially if it’s something you’re passionate about. If you’re looking for a job because you need money, or you want to do a job where you use your mind and your hands – come here! Come work for a union! There are limitless opportunities.
What makes you #MakerProud?
Abby: Having the opportunity to work on such a wide range of projects that are reaching so many industries is really rewarding. I drive by a hospital in downtown Baltimore and point out to my friends that I helped weld the piping for that hospital. The piping that keeps water and gases flowing to the people who depend on them. Whenever I go into a building or house, I am always interested in the piping and mechanical systems and how things work.
Cate: For me, I also feel like my job at Poole and Kent opened my eyes to the diverse projects that welding serves – virtually every industry. It is really rewarding to know that what I do ultimately supports scientists, doctors, nurses – even the infrastructure for the internet. It is really cool to know that my work goes into buildings serving almost every industry. Who can say they go to work and what they make can help virtually every industry?