From Jeweler to Seaspan Welding Apprentice

Tara-Lee Gardner was on cloud nine, sitting in a restaurant across the street from Seaspan, after a very successful pre-employment weld test at Seaspan. She and another applicant were excitedly discussing the company and the prospect of a career there, when something unexpected happened.

The story starts about a year before that, though. Then, Tara-Lee Gardner was working full-time as a jeweler, yet having a hard time making enough money to live in one of Canada’s most expensive cities. Her friend Marley, a welder at Seaspan, suggested that Tara Lee’s jewelry-making background – fine motor skills, excellent hand-eye coordination and soldering experience – would be very transferrable to work as a welder and sang the praises of Seaspan as an employer. The seed was successfully planted. Shortly thereafter, Tara-Lee, a member of the Sto:lo Nation, reached out to ACCESS, the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society, to find out about the possibility of funding to help her attend BCIT.

“Just after I graduated from my Foundations course, I was working another job, it paid the bills, but it was repetitive work. I was still really focussed on Seaspan,” Tara-Lee explains.  “I knew that to apply there, I had to have my CWB Flux Core ticket. That was a process!” she adds, flashing a characteristic wide smile. She returned to BCIT to refine her technique and obtain her certification, working 16-hour days. During that process, her instructors told her about a new, two-week pilot program, just starting up, for certification in Marine Construction. She signed up immediately.

“I wanted to have as much as possible under my belt. I was welding from 7am to 10pm, just so motivated to get a job at Seaspan!”

When the day of her pre-employment weld test arrived, Tara-Lee found herself in a room with several other women “I had thought it would be one-on-one. Now I had an audience – even more nerve-wracking! But when we got to the end of it, Benny, the tester, said ‘You guys all did really well and I’m pretty sure a celebration is in order.’ I was SO excited!”

Tara Lee and another applicant went straight to the restaurant across the street from the shipyard.

It’s at that point that things took an unexpected turn. As the women discussed the benefits of working at Seaspan (union-shop, benefits, pension, further education) and their excitement at the idea of making a career there, Mark Lamarre, the new CEO of Seaspan, was sitting nearby. “This man comes up to us, and says, ‘Do I understand you’re starting at Seaspan?’ We told him about the test we just took. He told us who he was and said how nice it was to hear how excited we were.” Lamarre gave the women his card and told them to get in touch if they ran into any problems during the process. As it turned out, both of the well-qualified applicants sailed through on their own, but what a story they had to tell their families that night: “You are never going to guess what happened to me today!”

Tara-Lee accepted a position as a welding apprentice in September. “Coming in, I sort of expected a mentality that this wasn’t a place for women. But I met none of that. Everyone has been just great, from chargehands to other welders, really happy to give a hand and answer questions.” She is working on the Joint Support Ship now, and enjoying variety of work that comes her way. “And I LOVE welding. Once you get to be good, it is so rewarding: chip the slag away and there is a beautiful, mint weld underneath. Like a big curtain reveal,” she laughs.  Tara-Lee will return to BCIT in January to get her Welder Level 3 Training, on her way to obtaining her Red Seal.