Local 28 welding apprentice Amanda Filpo says learning to network while maintaining personal boundaries can be tough for women in HVAC.
“Dealing with strong personalities that are not used to women in their workplace, keeping feminine products as a part of your tool bag necessities, and not being offended by crass and crude conversations,” she says in a recent interview with SNIPS. “There are definitely difficulties that you come across being a woman in a male-dominated industry that you quickly have to learn to navigate through.”
However, she adds, "For every incompetent and sexist man that you meet out there you come across more male allies who have wives, daughters, or mothers who make sure you feel included and respected.” Filpo’s father joined Local 28 in 1985. He was the first from his family to join the skilled trades and later introduced the trade to his brothers, cousins, nephews, and now her.
Here, Filpo shares her journey into the sheet metal trades and the unique challenges facing women in the HVAC industry.
Have you connected with other women in the trades? Do you find they face the same challenges as you do?
About three years ago, I discovered through my union about the Women Build Nations conferences that happen every year in different states. It is a weekend dedicated to women across the country in male-dominated industries to help us network and navigate through our careers. My union also has a women’s committee, and there are also monthly women trades-meetups that are great spaces to get involved and network with other women in the industry.
There are definitely certain challenges that you face with other women who may not agree with your style of work ethics and attitudes. However, for the most part I try to keep all relationships professional and engaged with moving my career forward.
In starting your apprenticeship, what was the most challenging part for you?
The most challenging aspect about starting my apprenticeship was changing my lifestyle for this particular career. Construction is early hours and can be physically demanding so navigating my sleep schedule, my eating habits, and my physicality was important to me. I noticed a lot of old timers aren’t in great shape, but I do think the industry is changing and my generation is taking care of their health and priorities at a better rate than those before us.
Stretching, meditating, eating healthier, and being aware of addictions associated with the culture of construction is more focused on now in apprenticeships. Another challenge was not allowing the ideology behind “being one of the guys” take away from my own personal femininity. I do not care about being “one of the guys.” I just want to be a great sheet metal worker.
How has working in the trades changed your life? Your ability to make a living? Your career trajectory?
Working in the trades has completely changed my life since I started this journey when I was 20 years old. The industry really helped me grow up and become a hardworking professional. I started to take the direction of my life more serious. I was earning more money than a lot of people in my age group; I was able to afford my own car; I was able to help my family out and pay for college courses.
Five years ago, I never thought the union would get me this close to my goals and the feeling of self-sufficiency. I believe that my career trajectory has expanded since I’ve become more comfortable with my abilities to succeed in the union.
Why did you choose a welding focus over others? Why not drafting?
My particular career focus is to achieve success in welding and fieldwork because I do notice that even though more women are entering the building trades, there are not many female mechanics specifically in my industry that have longevity in fieldwork. However, I am a Sheet Metal Worker and so my main focus is to learn as much as possible about my industry. I want to learn more about sketching and AutoCAD. I want to get as much certs as I can, and I want to learn more about political positions and business opportunities within the industry. I believe that there are no limits within my trade that I cannot unlock in some form, my journey has really just begun and I am excited to see what barriers I can break.
What do you look forward to the most about finishing your apprenticeship this year?
It is truly a journey just to survive and thrive under the umbrella of an apprenticeship. There have been days that I wanted to give up and find a “normal” job. There are days where your hands are so cold you can’t feel your tools, or days where you don’t feel welcomed, days that you’re covered in dust and someone made your coffee wrong.
However, I grew to really love my craft where every day is different, where I have learned to be versatile and creative, and can really show off as a mechanic. I am super excited for the future and to fly out of the apprenticeship nest and see what the real journey of a sheet metal worker will be for me.