Tradeswomen Tuesday: Tammy Snyder Priest, Millwright Apprentice, Local 1076 Indiana
Future Tradeswomen Tuesday stories will be published by the Taskforce on Tradeswomen Issues, which unites local, regional and national expertise and action to support tradeswomen and women who want access to these occupations, and is committed to advancing the conversation on employment issues faced by women in the trades.
I am a second year Millwright apprentice out of 1076 in Hobart, Indiana. I am very excited to be a third year apprentice in February. I can’t believe how fast this time has gone. I am originally from Northwest Indiana but just moved up to Michigan this past winter. I am in the process of buying a house here. I really fell in love with the area. I live in between wineries and right on the St. Joseph’s River. It just doesn’t get any better than this for me. I like it so much that I helped my sister join the trade too.
When did you join the trade?
I started my apprenticeship around September 2013. I can still remember getting my acceptance letter. It is by far my proudest achievement. I finally felt like I belonged. I was right where I had wanted to be for so long. I am impatiently waiting for the day when I get to proudly walk down that graduation stage and get my diploma as a full-fledged journey worker.
I initially started millwrighting on the non-union side. I was a corporate trainer for Darden at Smokey Bones. I trained from management on down and helped open many new restaurants. I had a group of guys that would frequent my home restaurant. They offered me a spot on their crew as a greaser. That’s how I learned what a millwright was.
I loved the work from the very first moment. My first job was in Arizona at a copper mine. I loved it out there and ended up working on two mines. I also did some building of dryer sections at ethanol plants as well. I learned some on the job but just not enough to be as successful as I wanted. Becoming union was all I really wanted. I wanted a registered apprenticeship program that would teach me the whys for the whats. And it has done just that, plus so much more.
I’m 3rd generation union now. My father, and his father before him, was a rigger welder in the steel mills. Now their job would be called a millwright or an ironworker as the job covers both trades.
What do you enjoy most about your trade?
A millwright does all sorts of work – demolition, rigging, greasing, torching, welding, fabrication, troubleshooting. Some of our duties include setting machinery to within a thousandth of an inch, including conveyors, gearboxes, motors and much more. It’s a lot of precision work. It’s always something new every day.
I guess what attracts me most to this profession is the atmosphere, the different places we work in, the people we meet, the challenges we face every day on the job and seeing how it all works out in the end. It can be very rewarding at times. Sometimes it feels as if I’m just a big kid still playing in the playground.
I remember in the beginning how intimidating some job sites could be, or scary and exciting at the same time. It was a new world I was becoming a part of and just seeing for the first time.
Even still today welding can draw me right in. It has become my happy spot. Tunes on and welding hood down. It is simply amazing. I absolutely love building things, and if I get to do that with fire, bonus.
What are the challenges you face on the job?
There have been many challenges to face and overcome since the beginning of my career. There have been those stubborn ones set in their ways and beliefs. When I encounter them all I do is smile and keep walking in the opposite direction. I just set a new goal for the day, to be better than the day before.
Some challenges I have faced were physical ones. A ‘re-conditioning’ of my body. There have been times where I was completely worn out and so sore. I felt like maybe I couldn’t handle the physical requirements of being a millwright. But somehow I survived and kept coming back for more. Everyday got a little easier.
My biggest issue right now is a minor, petty one. I hate that the majority of society still feels men and women cannot just be good friends without any romance. This theory has been tested many times through the years. But it seems there is sometimes that one doubter. However, I am convinced that with time this will pass, as have past challenges.
What skills or traits have made you successful?
I think the key to being a good millwright is to not give up. There are so many times our job may seem impossible and hopeless. I stay determined and keep moving forward. And I’ve learned it’s okay to step outside the box sometimes. It is usually all we need to do. Looking at things from a different view or perspective can really shine that light for us.
Being a divorcee and having no kids of my own have made it easier on me to keep the balance with my home life. It has allowed me to really focus on my career. I do have some amazing nieces and nephews. I enjoy spoiling them when I can. It’s a win-win, I can borrow them, hang out with them and then give them back!
What is your vision for the future for women in the trades?
I definitely can see a lot more women becoming a part of the trades in our future. Swinging hammers, playing in grease, torching, welding. The path has been paved for us by our fellow sisters and brothers. And for that I am thankful.
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