As a fourth generation welder, Sierra Jennings’ choice of occupation follows a long family tradition. But as a woman working in the welding industry, her choice is considered nontraditional. Her training at the East Valley Institute of Technology gave Jennings the skills and confidence to bridge the gap and succeed in a field where women are the minority.
“EVIT was one of the greatest things that happened to me,” said Jennings, 19, who completed the EVIT Welding program in 2014 and now works at Local 469 Pipe Fitters & Steam Fitters
as an apprentice. It is a 5-year paid apprenticeship program to become a journeyman. She was able to start in year two of the program because of her training. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without going (to EVIT) for two years.”
When Jennings attended Chandler High School, a counselor suggested that she consider enrolling at EVIT, which provides career and technical education at two central Mesa campuses and Apache Junction High School. EVIT students spend a half-day in academic classes at their high school and a half-day at EVIT in advanced career training.
“It was intimidating at first because of all the guys. You just can’t let them push you around,” Jennings said in an interview during her first year at EVIT.
Today, she tackles her welding job with gusto.
“I really enjoy being a welder,” Jennings said. “Every day, a different job comes to me, or I can travel out to a job site. I meet new people every day and there’s always something new to learn. I have grown physically and mentally from my job. You definitely find out what hard work is!”
During her senior year, Jennings transferred from Chandler to Coronado High School in Scottsdale while continuing in the welding program at EVIT. After graduating from Coronado, she got a fabrication job at DragonFire Racing in Chandler.
“Lucky for me, my EVIT teachers found me a great place to start out right out of high school,” she said, adding that EVIT welding instructor Brent Johnson “was there for me through my whole journey. He’s a great teacher.”
Before her apprenticeship, Jennings had been working at Southwest Metalsmiths and earned seven X-ray, forklift and OSHA 10 certifications.
EVIT’s Welding program prepared her well, Jennings said. EVIT “gave us a lot of tests that really challenged me … We went over a lot of blueprints, which I read every day at my current job. Things like that have helped me a lot in the industry.”
Welding is one of about 40 career training programs offered at EVIT tuition-free for East Valley high school students and tuition-based for adults. EVIT encourages female students to pursue careers in welding and other industrial trades in which women comprise less than 25 percent of the workers in those industries. Employers in the industrial trades are eager to recruit women so they have a more diverse workforce.
Jennings hopes more young women will follow a nontraditional path. “Once your two years (at EVIT) are over, there are unlimited opportunities,” she said.
Students at EVIT’s central campuses have a 98 percent high school graduation rate, 2 out of 3 go on to college, and 85 percent are in college, jobs or the military within one year of completing their EVIT training. Nearly every program prepares students to earn professional licenses or certifications.
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