Work in the skilled trades is appealing for its pay and its diverse opportunities. It goes without saying that there is no one kind of job that uniformly defines the work of welding, with opportunities existing everywhere from workshops, to boilermaker factories, and even underwater. Life as a welder may also mean life on the road, at least for travelling welders like Paige Woodrum, whose work has taken her across the United States and into any number of unique environments.
We caught up with Paige to learn about her journey to becoming a travelling pipe welder, and to learn about the adventure of daily life on the road.
Journeying into the trades
“I was raised by a single father, a crane operator, who never favored blue collar or college for me. He just wanted me to pursue whatever made me happy,” Paige tells YesWelder. But in thinking about a career, finding what made her happy was easier said than done: “I always struggled extremely hard attempting to choose what to do for the rest of my life. I started to really think about what career path I was going to pursue the end of my sophomore year in high school, but even graduating I felt like I was pressured to go to college somehow.” And so she did. After trying her hand a civil engineering degree (“hated it”) and at a community college course in construction management (“loved it”), Paige was introduced to the world of welding by a friend.
“I was 20 years old when he told me it was a quick six month program, you can travel as much and far as I ever wanted, there weren’t many females in the trade, the money is endless but it depends how hard and often you work,” Paige, says, describing the potential pros and cons of the working world she was about to enter. “If I hated it, I can always use it as a back up plan and go back to school. I thought about it for a month or so and decided to pull the trigger and enrol in Elite Welding Academy, Cincinnati, OH.”
Photo by @elite_welding_academy
Working as welder
Now an experienced welder, Paige was a true novice in the world of welding when she started at Elite Welding Academy. “I had no idea what welding [entailed],” she readily admits, adding that she did not yet know “how a machine turned on” and had “never used a grinder!”
Despite knowing little about welding at first, Paige now specialises in TIG and stick welding, and has previously done work with MIG and flux core welding. “I enjoy TIG because of the attention to detail, but I enjoy stick because it’s more challenging in more different body positions. Especially on bigger jobs the pressure behind passing a test is heightened.”
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Paige says that she is determined to defy stereotypes and soar past unfairly low expectations, sharing that some co-workers have thought that she wouldn’t “pass a test just because I’m a female.” This hasn’t stopped her though, as she explains: “It makes me want to prove people wrong and pass a test even more. It’s all part of it, but the pressure makes me a better welder and I had to learn to live with it, it’ll either make me sink or swim so I decided to swim!”
Life on the road
“I have always wanted to travel, so this was the goal even before the start of welding school,” Paige tells YesWelder. After some time on the job, Paige’s dream of travelling came true. “I’ve worked everywhere from Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, Virginia, Florida to Alabama!” Paige’s individual working environments have also varied from the typical and unexciting to the glamorous and even the somewhat surprising.
Where all has Paige worked, you may ask — and her answer doesn’t disappoint: “I’ve worked in steel mills, chemical plants, tire recycling plants, building billionaire condos, the Denver Airport, fabrication shops, carpet/flooring plants, coal power plants, pharmaceutical plants, Red Bull/Monster plants, candle factories, marijuana candy factories, cardboard recycling plants, lumber mills, shipyards and boilers.”
The benefits of this nomadic lifestyle have been “infinite” for Paige, whose free time has been spent venturing into the world around her. “You can either chase the money or location, or both!” she told us, explaining the adventure of life on the road. “I have used the time in between each job to hunt/explore and I love every second of it! I meet the most amazing human beings and rarely the worst. It makes all the time on the road worth it.”
Embracing a truly free-spirited lifestyle, Paige has embraced the advantages of travelling for work: “I travel the country with my Ram 3500 dually/fifth wheel set up. I live in my camper full time and enjoy every second. The world is what you make it. You can work as many hours as you ever want making a lot of money. Also, you can pick and choose to an extent where you work. If I want to travel out to the western states, I can. If I want to travel to the northeastern states, I can.”
Paige and her work buds!
Still, Paige cautions that the freedom of nomadic life comes at a cost. For her, this has meant long working hours for more lucrative overtime checks, and the difficulties of finding work during downturns. Nevertheless, this work is something that she advises young welders to consider. “I would advise a young person to explore every single option they have. They should think about all different trades before choosing a specific one.”
The considerations for young welders don’t end there, Paige tells us. “They should also explore whether union or non-union is their best option. A younger person should think about if a welding school is better or if buying a machine and learning on their own is better too. There are a ton of options to learn trades, especially pipe welding.”
The most important consideration, however, is not about the technical aspects of the trade one enters, as Paige tells us: “Lastly, do what makes you happy at the end of the day!”
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