The Perfect Weld

Jessica Flores welding.
Jessica Flores welding.
Mike Peterson
Apprenticeship and Training Coordinator, Ironworkers Local 229 Apprenticeship and Training Program in San Diego

It took quite a while for the Ironworkers to welcome women into their ranks. The first known women Ironworker, Kelly Mann, was from Local 751 Alaska. She started working Iron in 1975. It’s hard to say with certainty that she was the very first woman ironworker, but it’s what the records show.

Fast forward to today. Ironworkers Local 229 has many female journey workers and apprentices, as do most of the other locals. Jessica Flores is an ironworker apprentice here in San Diego who really stands out—can she weld! She is by far the one of the best ironworker apprentice welders. She also ranks among the best welders that Ironworkers Local 229 has to offer. This is her story.

Jessica was born in Utah and grew up in Temecula, California. She was a quiet and shy kid who suffered from anxiety. As a teen, she went to Chaparral High School, then was she arrested in the 11th grade by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department during Operation Glasshouse—a controversial undercover drug sting that led to the arrest of students at three different schools in Riverside County.

After her arrest, Jessica attended a continuation school in Murrieta, where she got her high school diploma early. It was there she noticed a couple of career skills training programs. A welding program caught her eye but everyone suggested that she go down the conventional nursing route. Jessica obtained her certified nurse assistant license but never worked for a facility. Nursing just wasn't her cup of tea.

She never took a gap year when it came to learning, she knew to keep pushing on and find one thing that she would really like to do for a living and pursue it.

Jessica attended Palomar College with the intention of obtaining a music degree, but soon veered toward their welding program. Being a first-generation college student, she qualified for a grant through the state. She obtained her associate of science degree, acquired a basic understanding of welding and was able to practice different types of welding processes.

After graduation, she found work at a small gate fabrication shop where she was welding using the gas metal arc welding process, but it wasn’t long until she sought a bigger and better career. She had heard people in her college welding class talk about the Ironworkers Union, so she got her foot in the door to the apprenticeship through the Gladiator program. The Gladiator program is an ironworker pre-apprenticeship training program that includes hands-on training and is very physically demanding.

The training was mostly rebar/reinforcing steel based, because it’s the most physically demanding aspect of our trade. By the 4th day of training we were down to 10 people out of 17 that started. It was Jessica’s never-quit, never-give-up attitude that held the 10 remaining in the group together. She never complained or showed any fatigue and completed the training. All of those who finished the program were given automatic entry into the Ironworkers Local 229 Apprenticeship & Training Program.

Now a few years into her welding journey, Jessica continues to learn from and work alongside some of the best in the trades. She has excelled beyond all others in her welding skills. Jessica consistently scores highest in her class on course tests and on our hands-on training exercises. Jessica maintains steady employment and continues to upgrade her welding skills, by practicing and testing in our welding lab whenever she can.

There's still a lifetime of knowledge out there to grasp and as an apprentice Ironworker, she is exploring all that this trade has to offer.

February 2022