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Doing What You Love Is the Best Thing Ever
Alba Gonzalez, a welding general foreman on the MEGlobal ethylene glycol plant construction project in Freeport, Texas, reflects on her career as a welder and why it’s the best thing ever to do something she loves.
Welding first caught my attention in high school when I took classes at my high school in Deer Park, Texas. A lot of other students said that it was a man’s job; it’s not for a girl, but I loved it.
As soon as I turned 18, I started out as a pipefitter helper on a construction project for another construction company. As work came down on that project, I needed other work and so I went to Fluor’s office in Deer Park. There a recruiter told me about Fluor’s tuition-free welder upgrade training.
I applied and was accepted. The classes are full-time for 16 weeks, but I knew it was worth the time because of what I stood to gain.
When I graduated, I went to work at Fluor on some projects in Freeport. I started out doing a little bit of welding and became a welding foreman shortly thereafter, supervising 15 to 16 welders.
Fluor had a number of projects in Freeport, so I had the opportunity to work on three projects in the area, supervising around 30 welders.
I then went to another project in Baytown to help them finish up. I talked to one of the construction managers about how I could help the most, which was inspecting and signing off welds. When you are welding, you have to wait for welds to go through a quality control inspection before they can be signed off.
I got certified as an in-house inspector with Fluor, taking three tests to confirm I could identify good welds and issues. After working as a welder and then as a foreman, I can tell when there was a defect. I was able to help get hydrostatic tests completed, which is when you test piping by pushing water through it to ensure there are no leaks in the system.
From Baytown, I went back to Freeport with Fluor. I was a foreman, supervising welders.
Today, I’m at the MEGlobal ethylene glycol plant construction project for Fluor in Freeport. I’ve been promoted to a general foreman and I now have three foremen helping me out as we supervise welders across two shifts. It’s an incredible responsibility to be the general foreman. With all the welding work we have out here, you have to put it in your mind, and the mind of all the welders, that we are going to do it right and not have any welds rejected.
It can be a challenge to get everyone motivated every day. A lot of guys aren’t used to having a female general foreman, but if you treat people right, they’ll respect you. You have to care about the people and about the job we do.
Once a week, Fluor has classes for supervisors and those have helped me a lot. I’ve learned how to work with and manage people. For example, I’ve gotten great advice about how to support and work with someone who has had a bad day.
I love being part of management and getting to know each of the welders. I know their individual skills and am able to put them in the right place at the site where they will succeed. It’s incredible what happens when you put people in a place to succeed. Working together, we’ve had some of the lowest weld reject rates on the Gulf Coast on our projects.
Every day, I come in and am always learning. It’s incredibly satisfying to learn the system, know what you have to do to get the job done and then come up with a great production at the end of the day.
I’m now working to become a certified welding inspector. I’m planning to go back to college to become a welding engineer.
To anyone who is considering a career in welding, I say go for it! Not only is it great pay, but to have a job where you are doing something you love, it’s the best thing ever.