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Tiffany Barnes

Tiffany Barnes JVS Graduate Excels in Non-Traditional Career: Tiffany Barnes is a Journeyman Ironworker for Ironworkers Local 17

Tiffany Barnes , Auto Tech, Class of: 2005
Tiffany Barnes enjoys looking down at people.

But don't hold it against the 24 year-old LaGrange resident because it goes with the territory - perched high above Cleveland's skyline working on bridges and buildings as an ironworker.

"I'm not afraid of heights, but if I'm a little nervous it keeps me on my toes and I'm less likely to have an injury," said Barnes, a journeyman, or more apt, journeywoman, for Ironworkers Local 17 in Cleveland.

Barnes' journey began when enrolled in the Lorain County JVS Auto Technology Program, where she learned a variety of skills that helped her in her apprenticeship training- maybe most important - how to co-exist in a male-oriented work environment.

"I was determined to prove myself. It made me work harder," said Barnes, one of only four girls enrolled in the senior Auto Tech Program in 2005. Her hard work and outstanding skills earned her the honor of "Outstanding Senior" that year.

Barnes interest in heavy metal after conversing with a family friend who worked in the industry.

"He said that I had the right attitude for the job," said Barnes. "I was looking for work. The timing was right."
Less than two percent of the nation's ironworkers are female, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 'Women in the Labor Force: A Databook (2009 Edition)'.
But that did not discourage Barnes.

"I thought it might be a cool gig. I did some research, applied and was lucky enough to land an apprenticeship," said Barnes, the only female among 20 apprentices in December 2006. "But most everybody I know tried talking me out if it. I just hoped I would make it through the first day."

"About a dozen workers endure the four-year program, where apprentices learn skills such as post-tensioned reinforcing, rigging, blueprint reading, welding, structural steel erection - and most important - safety," Barnes said.

Barnes said that her confidence grew with every job, which began with a 10-day project that included raising a bridge to inspect rocker panels and restore bearing plates.

"I was pretty nervous on my first job, but afterward, I knew I'd be okay," said Barnes.

Other projects followed; a parking garage built with post-tensioned reinforcing - "a steel-enforced cable that is stronger than rebar," said Barnes, who also installed rebar at Cleveland Clinic's new health center and welded at the Key Bank office building, both in the Cleveland area.

"I got through it all without injury, other than the usual minor scrapes and bruises," she said.

Barnes, proudly displays the cards in her wallet documenting 12 different industry certifications including: Certified Welder, OSHA 30, and Qualified Rigger.

"There's a lot of importance placed on certifications for health and safety reasons. For example, I was required to get the Rigger Certification so my employer knew I was well trained and wasn't likely to tip over any cranes. That's a really bad thing," she laughs.

She offers this advice to JVS students, "You'll be far better prepared and more employable if you earn as many industry certifications as you can while at the JVS. Take advantage of everything the school has to offer."

Barnes became a full-fledged ironworker in February 2011. "It's very hard, intense labor, but I love it. It's completely awesome," said Barnes, the only female among 18 apprenticeship graduates.

Since then, Barnes has installed precast-concrete and curtain wall glass panels at Cleveland Clinic's new lab and currently is working at Eaton Corporation's new headquarters in Beachwood.

"I'm always climbing, scaling walls. I do a little bit of everything, but I'm having a blast," she said.

"That includes coping with "a lot of yelling, screaming and colorful comments" from male coworkers," Barnes said.

"I'm thick-skinned. I bark back," Barnes chuckled. "They know I work hard and have skills. I feel I have the respect of my peers."

Barnes is hopeful that her hard work and perseverance will lead to future promotions, possibly to foreman or superintendant. "That's my goal; I want to advance in this career field," she said.

"It all began with the JVS," Barnes admitted. "I'd probably be stuck in some dead-end job if not for the hands-on training I received."

That includes mentoring from JVS Auto Technology instructor Darin Lewis.

"What a cool guy," Barnes said. "He always took time to explain things to me. And he wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty."

Which is why Barnes said that she supports the JVS, and is quick to point out the school's benefits, "There's such a variety of programs that's there's really something for everyone. It's important that the school keep technology and equipment up to date so the students can be ready with the skills employers need."

Said Barnes: "Traditional classrooms were not for me. I wanted to graduate and go immediately into the workforce and be able to support myself. The JVS gave me the skills I needed to become a responsible adult, skills that I will use for a lifetime."
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