July 25, 2005 in City

Female welder ‘just being Brittani’

By The Spokesman-Review
Christopher Anderson/ photo

Brittani Marcoe, 18, who is headed for an apprenticeship program for the Boilermakers Union in Seattle, pauses in the welding shop of the Skill Center.
(Full-size photo)

Another Spokane Skills Center standout.

Eighteen-year-old Brittani Marcoe has boilermaker blood.

This month, Marcoe was accepted into the Seattle Boilermakers apprentice program. She placed 10th of the 40 who were accepted.

By fall, she’ll likely be reading blueprints of large ships, laying out cuts and perfecting her welding skills.

She’s one of a handful of local young women who are pursuing male-dominated career paths.

There was a time when women who pursued non-traditional careers were viewed as feminists who tried to knock down barriers, said Mona Griffin, a school improvement specialist at the Spokane Skills Center, a vocation program that serves several area school districts.

These students are just very comfortable in their own skin, Griffin said.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say they are feminists. They just are who they are. I think that’s different than my generation,” Griffin said, the mother of daughters ages 21 and 25. “We felt like we had to be feminists in order to succeed.”

Griffin said she spoke with Marcoe about the possibility of facing some situations that could arise involving harassment or even simple meanness. The average age of the predominantly male Boilermakers Union is 47.

“She was very matter of fact about it,” Griffin said.

Marcoe explained to Griffin that she’s already dealt with some of those challenges, and that she could handle herself.

“I think there’s a change in attitude. I don’t think Brittani is proving anything for women. She’s just being Brittani,” Griffin said. “Maybe (this generation) is able to do that because of what was done before.”

Frank Gosser, apprenticeship coordinator of the Seattle Boilermakers, said that in his 23 years of building and repairing ships he has known a handful of women in the union. But as the work force has aged, he said, there’s a great need for all young people to take an interest in the trade.

He saw the makings of a good boilermaker in Marcoe.

Three times a year, interested trainees can fill out applications, take a few tests and sit through interviews. Gosser likes to ask the hopefuls, “How many here like to play with fire?”

As boilermakers, their job is to cut and weld metal, which takes fire that burns very hot.

When he asks his trademark question, they’ll either raise their hands or have that gleam in their eye, or they’ll get that deer-in-the-headlights look, he said.

“You will get burned. There’s no other polite way to say it,” Gosser said.

Marcoe, who has already been burned on her beltline, had the right look in her eyes and skills to back up her career ambitions, Gosser said.

“People like Brittani don’t care,” Gosser said. “They’re hooked.”

As companies come to the apprentice program, the highest workers on the list are assigned jobs. By summer’s end, Marcoe could start her three-year evolution of gaining her journeyman status. She expects her starting salary to be about $13.50 an hour.

Marcoe, who’s the oldest sibling in her home, is making plans to move to Seattle this summer. She makes no secret that she’s had a tough life so far.

Throughout her life, she has helped her mother raise several children.

She also went through 13 schools in 12 years, which jumbled her education, especially in math, she said.

She heard about the Spokane Skills Center when she saw a flier. She was attending Contract Based Education on Bowdish, sometimes called Bowdish Contract School, in the West Valley School District, where she earned her diploma.

Last year, she enrolled in a collision repair course at the Skills Center.

“When I was little, I lived with my dad. He always did mechanical work on the side. I would always try to help,” Marcoe said. He died when she was 12, but he left a deep impression, even after her parents split up.

There was a conversation he once had with her by phone that never left her.

“I want you to do really good. I don’t want you to mess up your life like I did,” she remembers him telling her. “I didn’t think anything of it then. Lately, it’s been that request that has kept me going.”

This summer, she took advantage of the Skills Center summer program to further hone her welding skills.

She wears work boots like her dad once wore.

“It felt good to put boots on and follow in his footsteps,” Marcoe said.

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