Local 17 (Rhode Island) fifth-year apprentice Kerry Sampson “had no idea what sheet metal even was” when a friend suggested that she consider entering the trade. Sampson, who previously worked as a hairdresser and makeup artist, had taken an interest in welding as she looked to work in a more consistent and better-paying field.
“Then he explained that I didn’t need to have any experience whatsoever, that I would go through a five-year apprenticeship program – for free – while working and making money, and I decided to give it a shot,” Sampson recalled in a Woman In Construction Week profile video. Now, she added, she’s the first-ever female SMART sheet metal worker in Rhode Island.
“I’ve learned quite a bit,” she explained. “I’ve learned CAD, I’ve learned drafting, I’ve learned welding, I’ve learned fabricating ductwork, measuring, and right now I’m learning testing and balancing.”
Like fellow Local 17 sister Adrian Mobley, the SMART video team accompanied Sampson through a day in her life as a sheet metal apprentice, as she explained her schedule, discussed her journey in the trade and more. Sampson is currently working on a job at Providence College, cutting the exhaust into the bathrooms and the dorm rooms of a new residence hall.
“Depending on the job, I’ll be doing different things,” she told SMART. “Some jobs have a lot of welding, and I might be the ground person or the fire watch. Other jobs I would be installing the ductwork in the air. Some of the jobs I’m just the helper. [Either way] the day really flies by because you’re constantly learning and working.”
Before entering the Local 17 apprenticeship, Sampson found a consistent, family-sustaining career hard to come by. Her hair dressing job, she said, didn’t pay very well but had some benefits; as a makeup artist, she made more money but had no benefits. Now, with the strong pay and benefits afforded by her union apprenticeship, she’s able to help her daughter go to nursing school, afford her own place and provide for her loved ones.
“I definitely have better work-life balance now that I’m in the union,” Sampson explained. “I make better money, I’m more comfortable, I have better benefits, I can do what I want to do with my free time. I love fishing; the first year of my apprenticeship I was able to buy a small aluminum boat, and now I own a 20-foot center console.”
Like Mobley’s profile, Sampson also discussed the mentorship she’s received at her local, her favorite parts of being a sheet metal worker, and the advice she would give a woman considering entering the trade. She also described her future plans – shadowing a testing and balancing worker for two years and getting her TAB license – and looked back on her Tradeswomen Build Nations 2022 experience.
“We marched around the [Las Vegas] strip chanting ‘wicked SMART, wicked SMART’” Sampson recalled near the conclusion of her video profile. “It was an invigorating, and empowering, and invincible feeling. It was a feeling of unity, support, togetherness and belonging.”