Thirty-four year old Ilana Poulin learned welding from her stepfather, a Pipefitter/Welder who really wanted his daughter to weld. “He would take his lunch break to teach me welding, half an hour each day,” she says.
It must have worked, because even when her job as an Apprentice Pipefitter/Welder/Advanced Valve Tech doesn’t involve welding per se, she goes to the hall when she’s between jobs to practice or work on volunteer projects.
She has had the opportunity to weld on a few jobs, TIG welding pipe hangers at a plant, welding on a plastic tank at another plant, and welding galvanized steel—her least favorite job. “That was not fun,” she says, adding that the smoke from welding galvanized can make a person sick.
Ilana prefers TIG /GTAW welding. “I use TIG whenever I can,” she says, “It’s clean and there isn’t much smoke and fumes to breathe in.” One of her favorite projects to date: the “show pipe” for the Career Fair Trailer. “I also helped build the “Pipes and Chains” logo for the Local, which is displayed on the Labor Day parade trailer.
As a union pipefitter, and proud member of Local 25 out of Rock Island, Illinois just across the Mississippi river from Blue Grass, Iowa where Ilana lives, she says every now and then she runs into an ignorant man who thinks women don’t belong on the job, so it’s her biggest challenge: when she shows up at a new jobsite. “The guys either eyeball me, or they look disappointed because I’m a girl.” Ilana, as most women welders do, wins them over by working hard. “I always prove to them that I am a trained professional who can do the work,” she says.
Ilana has talked to high school girls interested in non-traditional careers and advises that the Union is the best path for success in the industry. “We are a brotherhood/sisterhood who look out for each other,” she says. Another benefit of working with the union is that there is always work as long as you’re willing to travel—and “Traveling for work can be a blast!” she says.
She’s honest with the girls, however, letting them know that while her job as a Pipefitter pays well, she’s had to work hard for that. Aside from a 5-year apprenticeship and on-the-job-training, she takes classes at night. She tells them that she does get dirty at work, “But I can still still look pretty on the weekends or when I’m off work,” she adds.
Ilana says she would tell her 15-year-old self to be bold, don’t be shy. Be confident, not scared. And above all, “Have fun, but be good!”
Pipes and Chains Logo courtesy of: UALOCAL370