The UA Veterans in Piping program assists returning veterans in obtaining civilian careers in the pipefitting trades.

Vanessa Redford

When it came time forVanessa Redford, 30, a Lance Corporal in the Marines, to return to civilian life, she worried about what kind of career the future held for her. “For me, the military used to be the ultimate job,” she says. “In the civilian world, they might fire you or lay you off, and that doesn’t happen in the military. I would be losing that job security.”

Then she heard about the United Association Veterans in Piping program, a 720-hour training course that assists members of the military in transitioning to civilian life and careers. The program includes 16 weeks of accelerated welding training. Going into welding seemed like a radical career change - but it appealed to her.

“I was interested, so I went and took the tests,” she says. “It was a very rigorous test - regular military enlistment questions aren’t as hard. But it was all worth it. Not very many women go into welding, so I feel like a real trailblazer.”

Redford passed the tests and went on to receive VIP Program training from the UA in Lacey, Wash. Work performed by UA members includes installing and servicing piping systems; plumbing fixtures; and heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems.

“I like putting things together,” Redford explains, “and working in construction is great. The best thing about being with the union is they have a big network and help in finding work, so I don’t have to worry about my future.”

“Here at the UA, we are pleased that Vanessa is enjoying her new life,” saysMike Arndt, director of training for the United Association. “Like all of our returning veterans, she is an American hero who deserves a rewarding career and a sense of security in her future.”

“Vanessa is a true role model for today’s young women,” notesAnne St. Eloi, special representative for the United Association, who organizes the UA VIP Program. “She went from the Marines to the construction industry, forging a pathway of success along the way.”

95-Percent Perfect

After Redford graduated from the UA VIP Program, she went on to work with the program in Camp Pendleton, Calif, for a week. During her training, she perfected a number of welding techniques, receiving four welding certifications. “The work is X-rayed to check for flaws,” she says, “and it has to be 95-percent perfect to pass testing.”

After training was completed, she relocated to Georgia. She now lives in Douglasville and has been working for B&W Mechanical in Norcross since July 2009. She belongs to the Local Union 72, the regional chapter of the UA.

Redford likes that the union is similar in structure to the military. “The union has a job steward, a foreman and other positions, just like military rank,” she explains. “The system is set up so there is never any mix-up on who does what.”

“When Vanessa came out to Atlanta, the first thing she did was enroll in our apprenticeship program,” saysCajun Seeger, welding director of LU 72. “Since then, she has been putting in a lot of overtime at our brand-new welding training center, the Mechanical Trades Institute Welding Technology Center in Lithia Springs, Ga. The center is exclusively for welding training and certification and our plumbers, pipefitters and service technicians take classes there.”

Seeger notes that every break Redford gets, she comes to the center to brush up. “She comes in after work to hone her welding skills,” he says. “The center is open five days a week, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with full-time welding instructors. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the center is open until 8 p.m., and between those two nights, Vanessa can put in eight hours of extra training a week.”

“Welding is a career line I would encourage women to pursue,” saysGeorge Head, business manager of LU 72. “It pays well and it’s steady work. Vanessa is working in a fabrication shop, where they prepare pre-fab pipe for job sites. It cuts down on the field cost, since the more that’s done before the work gets to the field, the better.”

“Vanessa’s the first participant with the UA VIP Program we’ve worked with, and she’s certainly lived up to the billing,” saidAbraham Mack, labor coordinator for B&W Mechanical. “She has a great willingness to learn and a positive attitude. She has a great future ahead of her.”

Why This Program Is Important

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average construction worker is 47 years old and the construction field will need to attract 240,000 workers each year to replace those retiring or leaving the workforce. BLS statistics also reveal that 450,000 welders will be needed nationwide by 2014.

Today’s returning service members should be given the opportunity to become the welders of tomorrow. That is whyWilliam P. Hite, general president of the UA, started the UA VIP program. The program began in the state of Washington in late 2008.

“The UA VIP Program is the right thing to do,” said Hite, “since these service members have given so much to their country.”

“I have a good life and I’m very pleased with my career,” said Redford. “It’s rewarding and pays better than most office work. And I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. It washes off.” For more information on the UA VIP program,