Shanna, 31, is originally from Southern California but she has considered Arizona home since she was 16 years old. Shanna graduated from the seven-month Welding Specialist program at RSI in January 2023.
Thanks for sharing your story, Shanna. What did you do before you came to RSI?
I have a degree in Christian Leadership, and I worked for an international ministry for quite a few years. More recently I owned and ran a preschool on a military base, and I’m a mom to a three-year-old boy. So, that’s my background. Nothing really to do with the trades at all!
Not at all! So, where did the idea of welding come from?
My dad’s blue collar. He owns a chemical engineering company. It’s always been something I’ve been interested in, but it always seemed more of a man’s thing, so I went the route I felt was expected of me.
Get Started on the Path to a New Career
Fill out our form to learn how we can help you change your life.
So, what brought you to welding school?
Last year I left an abusive marriage and came home to Arizona with my son. We literally left with a duffel bag, that’s it. I had no money. I had to leave my business. I left everything. Ministry doesn’t make much money, and neither do teachers. Now, as a single mother, I have to provide for my child. I grew up knowing that blue collar work, the trades, are steady; you can make good money. I decided to do what I wanted to do, instead of what I feel is expected of me. I chose welding. I got a little backlash for that.
Backlash? From whom?
Family, mostly. Just normal comments like, “Oh, it’s real hard work! “It’s mostly men” – just stuff like that really. But I was pretty determined this time to really do what I wanted.
So, how was your experience with that – were you the only female?
There was one other girl in my class, but there were quite a few girls in other classes. I was really surprised. We also had a female instructor Shannon. She was amazing. I really appreciated having a woman instructor; she was able to share a lot of things about the industry from a female perspective. When I started work, I found that I had a lot of her advice playing in my head; do this, don’t do this, don’t do that. That was really great. But yeah, I was pleasantly surprised at how many women were at RSI.
Good for you, and well done for leaving that situation and changing your life.
Thank you. I think everyone’s life should blow up in their face once in a while because it will remind you that things aren’t scary. Honestly, if you have to start over, you have to start over.
Had you ever done any welding, with your dad maybe?
Nope. The first time I ever welded was in class at RSI. I was as green as you could be.
I understand you wanting to choose a trade, but why welding and not HVAC, for example?
With other trades, for the most part, you’re doing the same thing. So, if you do HVAC, you go to different locations, but you’re really essentially doing the same thing. I’m very artistic and creative, and welding is an art. Everyone has different techniques, does different things. You can make sculptures, you can be a pipe welder, you can be a manufacturer. I didn’t want to do something where I felt stuck, where I was going to work and doing the exact same thing every day. I knew that welding would allow me to make huge career moves while using the same skills. If I want to be a pipe welder and weld in the field for a few years, I could do that. Then I could transition to making custom furniture and art. That’s totally within my realm of skills because it’s the same processes. You just use them differently.
That makes sense. What did you enjoy most from your time at RSI?
The instructors. I met so many different instructors that taught in such different ways. One of my favorite things was to get different instructors and ask them different questions. Technically we have one instructor throughout the program, but really, they all work together to help you. Everyone does things differently. One instructor could use one technique while another uses a different one. You just get to play with the techniques you pick up and choose which works for you. It’s really fun.
Did welding come easy to you, even though you were brand new to it?
I took to it pretty quickly. Two weeks into it, they had a welding competition. I tried to get my classmates to enter because I wanted the experience of doing a weld test. I was like, “I know we’re new, but let’s just go and do this for fun!” No one would go with me, so I just went on my own. The teachers weren’t going to let me do it because I’d never attempted anything like that. It was very advanced for me. But I said, “What’s the worst that could happen? I’m not going to win; it won’t hurt my confidence. Just let me try.”
So, did they?
They did. One of the instructors, Sam, really pushed to let me do it. I was really grateful for that. So, they ran a demo for me, and I won the competition! I ended up beating guys that were a few phases ahead of me. It was a real cool, humbling experience. I had a big smile on my face. That was a highlight for sure.
Congratulations! That was great for your confidence, I’m sure. Did you have frustrations though?
A lot of frustrations. I took to welding, but it wasn’t easy. But I just fell in love with it from the start. Welding is the key to the future for my son and me. I wasn’t able to provide for him alone before, so while I sometimes had frustrating moments, I never felt discouraged. Welding means freedom for me. I have this deep respect and love for welding because of the opportunity it has given me and everything it will continue to give me. I could see the bigger picture beyond those frustrating moments.
That’s a great way to look at it, to see the bigger picture.
I had to. Especially because it was during such a hard time in my life. Going to school was like a break, you know? I think that it was a different situation for me versus other students when they got frustrated. My whole life was frustrating. Going to school, learning something, and being creative was amazing for me. The years before were really dark and difficult for me. Going somewhere where I felt safe and could create, it really was amazing. I hadn’t been able to do that in so long. To really feel like I could be myself and put my mind to something and feel useful. It was just a great experience.
You started work at the end of January. Who do you work for now?
I got hired by Capitol Engineering Co in Phoenix. I found the opportunity through a job posting on Indeed. I wasn’t qualified at all for what they were wanting! They wanted a fabricator with five years of experience. But I’m pretty stubborn. So, I sent in my information anyway with an explanation that I’m a hard worker, really looking to learn and grow with a company. I wasn’t looking to bounce around. I wanted to find somewhere where I could settle in and be an asset to that company. They reached out and let me know that they had just started an apprenticeship program. He asked me to come in and they gave me an offer within 20 minutes of my interview and told me I could start the next day. The crew is about 50 people, and they only allow one intern at a time. So I was picked out of a group, which was pretty cool. I’ve been there three weeks and it’s really a dream job. I couldn’t have asked for nicer coworkers. I was very concerned about that. I’m only the second female that this company has hired on the floor in almost a hundred years! They’ve been really welcoming and helpful.
Are you happy with the money you’ve started on?
Oh yeah, definitely happy, especially being a single mom because the price of everything is insane. I talked to them about the fact that I needed to be at a certain number, and they pay really well for a shop. The apprenticeship program is six months in total. I’ll get evaluated after three months and get a pay raise. Then I go to Apprentice II for three months. At the end of six months, they decide if they want to hire you on as a full-time fabricator.
What’s your career plan from here?
I’m still getting to know the field. There’s so much to learn. I could see myself being here for the long term. They’re growing a ton right now; I got in at a great time. My plan is to grow with them, maybe become a foreman or learn how to make blueprints. I definitely want to build furniture and do some art myself. Maybe we can do that together when my son gets bigger, and I have a little more time on my hands!
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
I like the artistic side of it, but I also enjoy getting my hands dirty. I love building things, putting things together. I love getting blueprints, having to problem solve, then see something come together that I did.
What do people say when you tell them what you do for a living?
Usually they say, “What?” My favorite part is their reaction. I’ve got blonde hair, blue eyes, I grew up doing pageants and cheer. The look on their face when I tell them I’m a welder is just too funny.
Did you make some lasting connections, people you’ll stay in touch with?
Definitely, especially the women I met. The other woman in my class is out in the field working with her dad right now, and we stay in touch. We had a fire at work on my third day. I was out there cleaning up in the aftermath. I was soaking wet, covered in ash, just dirty. I sent her a picture and she sent me a picture of her in the field and we were like, “Look at us, we’re doing it!”
What advice do you have for students to be successful on the welding program at RSI?
To be successful, it’s just hours under the hood. You’re not going to get it right away; no one does really. So, the more time you put into it, the more successful you will be. That’s what welding is. It’s like 10% talent and 90% practice. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. When I first started, I knew nothing. So, if you’re going in knowing nothing, that’s okay. Totally fine. I was very nervous about that. I remember my first day, they were saying, “Look at your puddle” and I had no idea what that meant. What’s the puddle? What are you talking about? I couldn’t see it. It’s amazing how after a week or so you’re like, “Okay, I see this now.” Things start clicking. Things that you didn’t think you could ever do, you’re doing in a month.
If you’re an RSI graduate and would like to share your success story and be an inspiration to others, please email [email protected] to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), and program.