We interviewed our 5th year welding apprentice, Kristen, to discuss her family values, career, and the hard work that brought her here today.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A: My name is Kristen, I’m 26 years old. I went to Hortonville high school and Fox Valley Technical College. I’m married with two daughters and we love hanging out as a family. We try to be as involved as possible in our church, but when we aren’t there we love skiing and snowboarding together. I love my two cats, two pit bull puppies, and gardening with my little shadows (my girls). I’m a 5th year apprentice.
Q: Did you know you wanted to work in welding when you graduated high school?
A: Oh no- it’s been an interesting road that led me here. I started with the idea of being a firefighter, then changed to culinary arts. I then started learning about kinesiology and went back to Fox Valley Tech to be an occupational therapy assistant. While I was placed on the two-year waiting list for that program, I got my CNA. I worked at Neenah Foundry during the summer and realized I liked working with my hands. (Fun fact- this is also where I met my husband). About this same time my brother, who happens to be a very gifted journeyman welder, suggested I try welding to see if I liked it. I decided to give it a shot and got an apprenticeship at the union hall about five months later.
Q: Obtaining an apprenticeship after five months isn’t typical. What do you attribute that success to?
A: I spent hours at the union hall learning to weld and honing in on my skills. In this industry you don’t just get handed things- you have to really work at it, meet specific requirements and get better each day. Some people joked that I was given the apprenticeship so quickly because I was a “girl”, but I disagree. I worked really hard to be where I’m at, and hard work pays off. Male or female, it doesn’t matter, you get noticed by how seriously you take the work and the time you are investing in mastering your trade.
Q: Without having a welding background, how challenging was the initial “learning curve”?
A: It was a lot of learning. I didn’t even know how to put a drill bit in a drill. Holding the grinder, changing out the disks… I really didn’t know much before I joined the union. I was very nervous at first and found myself to be somewhat of the “underdog” of the class. But I had a lot of fellow students and friends who helped to teach me the skills I needed and my brother took me under his wing to help guide my progress.
Q: What is your role here at Bassett?
A: I started here in September of 2017. I work mostly on vessels. I worked in a pipe area previously, so coming here and building these huge tanks was a big change. In my role, I weld long seams, fit the shells and root them together and prefab nozzles and pipes as add-ons for the tanks. In between, quality control checks everything I do to make sure it is perfect. Welding tanks helps me learn about different weld settings. The group of guys I work with always wants to help everybody improve so we are always helping and learning together.
Q: The tanks we build can be pretty massive! Is that ever a challenge?
A: It’s true that this job can be hard on your body and your clothes, but I don’t play the “girl card”. I use all of the safety procedures we have in place and use hoists whenever I can. If I do run into something I can’t do, our teams are always more than happy to help. I like to think of it as being a role model for my daughters and show them what they can accomplish.
“This is a pretty cool job and I get paid pretty darn well.
“This is a pretty cool job and I get paid pretty darn well.
Q: What kind of projects or achievements have you accomplished that you are proud of?
A: I am proud of going through school, trying so hard, and finishing. Just ask anybody out there how they felt before and after your practical (written final)… it was ridiculously hard. This is such a critical skill that takes time and effort to get good at, but it feels really good when you look at the finished product think “wow, I did that”. I am proud to go home and tell my husband and my girls what I’ve been working on and I hope that through my journey I have been an example to them of hard work and dedication.
Q: Are there any common misconceptions about this type of role or line of work? Is there anything you’d like to say to “set the record straight”?
A: Some people think that “male workers don’t respect female workers in this trade”. That’s not true. They respect anybody who comes to work on time every day and gives it their all. You want a good work partner regardless of it’s a girl or a guy. We all just want to work together. It’s not male vs. female, its about good partners and good teamwork. These are values we want to instill in our children and I’m proud to get to work for a company that reflects those qualities as well.
Q: What drives your passion for this career?
A: When I see people around me that have been welding much longer, I watch them and it makes me set my sights higher to get to that level. I am passionate about strengthening my skills and using them to provide for my family.
Q: I can tell that you really love your family- how does this career impact you as a wife and a mom?
A: I don’t mind getting dirty and using my body, but it is hard work. Just when I start thinking I should have picked something a little easier- I think to myself “this is a pretty cool job and I get paid pretty darn well”. I’m so proud to be able to send my kids to private school, make a good living, and be able to tell my husband he might have to be a stay at home dad someday!
Q: What are some things that make Bassett a good fit for you?
A: I think Bassett Mechanical is really unique because the company is so involved- between our manufacturing floor, office, as well as collaboration with all other areas of the company. I feel that everybody respects each other for their different skills and talent. My family is the most important thing to me, so I like that everyone at Bassett treats you like family when you are here.
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