VIP Program: One Woman's Career Choice was a Family Choice

5.12.15

This story can also be found on the UA's Veterans in Piping (VIP) website here.

For 24-year-old Army Specialist Kellie Abbey, 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 11th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, Fort Hood, TX, becoming a welder/pipefitter for the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters, HVACR Service Techs and Sprinkler Fitters (UA) was the absolutely perfectcareer choice. Once Kellie transitions from the Army in early June 2015, she will find herself as the sole breadwinner for her family while her husband, who is also an Army veteran, returns to school. She feels confident that as a UA welder/pipefitter she will be able to earn a good living and provide benefits, including health care and retirement, for her husband, Nathan, and their one-year-old son, Ethan.

Kellie learned about the UA’s Veterans in Piping® (VIP®) program at a bi-annual recruiting event that was held through Education Services. The award-winning VIP program is an intensive 18-week welding program that was created for transitioning military personnel. The program is free, is currently located on seven military bases throughout the country, and the participants areguaranteed a job. VIP graduates also have input as to where they would like to continue their apprenticeships, which can be anywhere in the United States that the UA has a local union office and the jobs to employ them.

Kellie did not have a welding background when she started in the program, but in 18 weeks, she accomplished a lot. According to her welding instructor, Micah Tyler, Kellie finished in the top half of her class, attaining a UA Welding Certification, tested on another and practiced for a third for three to four weeks. She is well on her way to being successful in the UA’s apprenticeship program at Local Union 211 in Houston, TX. Kellie chose Houston to continue her apprenticeship so that her husband could continue school and to be close to family members who live there. They have already found a place to live, and Kellie said, “I love Houston, it just seems like a great place to raise a family.” Kellie’s instructor said, “I feel confident that when we send her to Houston, she will be able to be immediately utilized in the field. I definitely feel she has the skillsets to transfer to a jobsite and to be used in some capacity.”

What appealed to Kellie about welding was the hands-on facet of the trade. She loves to work with her hands, and stated that she enjoys working on a project and seeing its fruition from start to finish. It has been noted that women make excellent welders. Their eye/hand coordination is very good, and they enjoy the artistic aspect of producing an excellent weld. “I like being in my own world,” she said. “I like when you get a project and you work on that for the rest of the day. Welding is fun—there is immediate gratification or disappointment, depending upon the day.”

When asked whether she would be intimidated working in a field that is predominantly men, she laughed, and said, “I’ve been in the Army for over three years. I have been in one unit by entire career. I am a quiet person. I have always gravitated toward men as friends—there is less drama. I’m the type of person that if someone says, ‘You can’t do that,’ I will try harder. We are all in this profession for the same thing—a great wage, good benefits and retirement. We are all doing this so that our families can be secure.”

Kellie has aspirations. She currently has her Associate’s Degree. Through the UA, she hopes to attain her Bachelor’s Degree, perhaps in Construction Management, something that will be applicable for her job, she said. “I could even try to become a Certified Welding Inspector down the road. There are so many options from here,” she stated. She added, “I feel a lot of things right now—excited, a little anxious. I feel responsible, and like I made a real educated decision, but most of all—I feel secure, I feel safe, and I feel like my family is safe.”