Forging a New Path Forward
Cristina RedBear’s perseverance, fortitude, and wherewithal have helped to make her apprenticeship journey a truly transformative experience. Her husband learned about welding school through his labor union, which guided Cristina toward thinking through her own possible career and registered apprenticeship opportunities. After applying to two different registered apprenticeships, Cristina heard back from NABTU’s Boilermaker’s 83 Union, which would forever alter the course of her life. Now in the third year of her registered apprenticeship, Cristina expresses extreme gratitude for the opportunities it has created for her.
Still, these opportunities have not come without their share of obstacles and barriers. Cristina is a Lakota Native and from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. First, Cristina and her family moved off the Standing Rock reservation, which crosses the borders of North Dakota and South Dakota, to Bismarck, ND so that she could attend Lynnes Welding Training. Cristina noted that moving her family, including four children, was a major step that required the whole family to “step out of their comfort zones.” After Cristina was accepted into the boilermaker's apprenticeship program, they made another move to Missouri. Cristina explained that she and her family “moved… and started over completely. We didn’t have any furniture, nothing. We just had enough room for our clothes in the U-Haul.” Fortunately, Cristina has found community, fulfillment, and happiness in her apprenticeship work as a boilermaker.
When asked about what it is like to work in a primarily male-dominated trade, Cristina stated that while she has encountered a fair share of obstacles, the journeymen have been an honor to work with and have been more than willing to teach her and share their knowledge, “which is one of our goals as journeymen: to help the next generation of apprentices coming in to learn the trade.” She noted the females she works with have been especially inspiring. “It helps me to be motivated and excites me to see other females on the job,” Cristina said. “I really love being out there and meeting the women in the trade.”
Even without having yet completed her apprenticeship, Cristina noted that “this is the most money I’ve made.... It’s just been so great for me and my family.” She expressed excitement about the fact that she is continuously learning new skills through her On-The-Job Training and feels proud that she has pushed herself to do things that she wouldn’t have thought possible years ago. In the future, Christina and her husband would like to open their own business so that their children can get involved with the trades, offer welding workshops, and act as a mentor for youth interested in this pathway.
Cristina’s advice to potential future apprentices is to “take the jump… Take power over their mind and will, and they can do it.” Cristina, thirty-three years old herself, also noted that she wants women of all ages to know that they have the power and abilities to start an apprenticeship or to turn a new page in their lives. Cristina explained that she “doesn’t want anyone to ever think it’s too late,” and her story exemplifies the fact that working hard, taking chances, and believing in oneself can lead to truly transformative opportunities.