Originially appeared here.
“I am hard-headed, determined, and I believe in myself,” says Victoria Marie Rios, Ironworker and certified Safety Trained Supervisor of Construction, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Coming in as an apprentice in 2007, Victoria didn’t follow a traditional route, she was 36 when she discovered ironworking. She says her career has been all about luck and good timing.
“I had my first child at 21.I was working desk jobs not making much money and with no room for advancement, no pension and no retirement. I was looking for something with a future and not behind a desk. I went back to school and got an associate’s degree in business administration and then a bachelor’s degree in computer technology with a concentration in management. But even with those degrees, I was not happy with the opportunities.” A friend working at a manufacturing plant where car parts were built, mentioned they needed help. “Curiosity got the best of me and I applied and learned how to do mig welding.” From there, a fourth generation ironworker and longtime friend, Scott Ellis encouraged her to apply for his local’s apprenticeship. She was accepted into the program where she was one of 2 women in a class of 30.
The apprenticeship was a lot of hard work and she came through it with determination as well as support from local members. “I know from the tradeswomen’s conference that other tradeswomen have experienced many challenges, but I can honestly say, if there was any conflict, challenges or back lashing, I didn’t hear about it and if I did, I shrugged it off – I just didn’t have those stories. I can’t say enough good stuff about my local.”
This past year, Victoria made local history as the first woman Local 89 sent to a conference. “I thought that the tradeswomen’s conference was spectacular! I was welcomed with open arms. There was not one woman in any of the trades at that conference that wasn’t ready to share the good, the bad, the ugly and the in between, we shared everything. I had to report back to the local about the conference and because that is the first time they ever voted for a woman to go to a conference. There is now a glass case in our hall about me and the conference.” Victoria is the only female journey worker in a local of about 500 members.
“I made local history again when I took the Safety Supervisor class with the support of the International Ironworker’s IMPACT program. I am the first woman to pass the training and get the certificate in my local. There are only 7,000 of us in the United States to hold this certification. As the Safety Trained Supervisor on the worksite, my job is to ensure that all my fellow workers go home safe every day.”
“My family and the amount of support I got from them to help with the long hours when I was gone, was key. They have always helped pick up the parenting for my children. And the union has given me the reassurance that if something ever happened to me, I knew my children would be taken care of. My oldest thought my work was crazy, but he followed me into construction and is now a carpenter, a second generation tradesperson.”
For any women looking to come in, Victoria says “you have to be strong, be bold, be determined and believe in yourself. Believing in yourself will make them believe in you. Be persistent, in what you want, don’t take no for an answer and know there are other avenues to help you achieve your goals.”