Shannon Butler builds a career and a family
At the end of her five-year adventure exploring and learning the world of pipefitting, Wareham resident Shannon Butler, 26, finally earned her title as a journeywoman — and as a mother.
To become a journeywoman, Butler needed to graduate from an apprenticeship program in her trade of choice, which she did in April from Pipefitters Local 537.
To become a mother, Butler needed to find the best way to finish her apprenticeship while giving birth and raising a child for the first time, which she did with the support of her pipefitting community.
Butler discovered she was pregnant two years into her apprenticeship program.
Nervous about how she would balance the two, she said that she found herself afraid to tell people, especially those she worked with.
“I always knew I wanted to be a mom and I wanted to be a young mom,” she said.
When Butler finally decided to open up about her pregnancy, her dreams of becoming a mother were validated and she received positive feedback from those around her.
“It made me excited — like I didn't have to worry,” she added.
But Butler still had three more years of her apprenticeship to go.
As a pipefitter, Butler and others in her trade, work together to install pipes for heating and cooling in commercial buildings.
“It's like Legos, but with pipes,” she said.
Excluding the cost of textbooks, Local 537 offers its apprenticeship program for free, according to Training Coordinator Paul McGrath.
“When you are accepted into Local 537, it’s so much more than a job,” McGrath said. “You join a brotherhood/sisterhood that is there for life.”
And Butler learned first hand the value of this community.
Struggling with trouble at home during her pregnancy, Butler knew she could turn to her classmates for support.
“For me, it's like a huge family,” she said. “Everybody looks out for one another.”
Though pregnancy limited the work she could do at the time, she didn’t let it stop her.
She said due to Covid, she could keep up with her classes remotely, which helped ensure she would not fall behind.
When everything became face-to-face again, she still made it to her night classes two to three days a week with the help of her parents.
Butler said the transition back to work was easy and everyone was understanding. The hard part was leaving her son for the first time.
Shannon’s mother Susan Butler said although this career path may be atypical for many women, “this was our journey.”
She said in high school, Shannon excelled in welding and similar courses, which gave her the opportunity to assist her teacher with the adult night classes.
Susan added Shannon would often gift the projects she made in class, including a “Live, Laugh, Love” sign made from sheet metal, a candle holder, and windchimes adorned with a small gingerbread man.
“I’m so proud of her,” she said. “She’s living the dream.”
Adam Giacomozzi, Shannon’s fiancé and a pipefitter for 14 years, said he helped Butler with anything she needed and was readily available to answer her questions about the field.
Though Giacomozzi and Butler share a love for pipefitting, they did not know about this shared interest when they initially met online.
Giacomozzi said that the work Butler completed was a lot, but she “never let it bother her and worked right through it.”
Butler said she learned a lot from the program, including focus and the value of problem solving.
She said she was challenged by blueprints and how to read them, but was never afraid to keep asking questions.
As a woman in a male-dominated field, Butler said that excluding initial discouragement from some family members, she has yet to face any problems in the workplace.
Butler added that every year, the number of women entering the field increases.
To women who may be considering this trade or one similar, Butler said, “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it.”
She added this includes those who choose to become parents while pursuing their career.
“I know some people are afraid to do it, but if it happens, it happens and it's not a setback,” Butler said.
“It just made me work harder because now I have somebody I have to support,” she added. “I have to keep going and work hard for him, so he can have a good life.”