Steamfitter Explains Why This Under-the-Radar Job Is So Satisfying

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Steamfitter Todd Clements
As a steamfitter, Todd Clements spends his time cutting, prepping and welding different types of piping spools. (Credit: Courtesy Todd Clements)

Todd Clements has been a steamfitter for six years, and the satisfaction he gets from his job shows no signs of wearing off. 

The 33-year-old says he's saving lives — although, as he explains, it's not in the way you might think. He's a steamfitter, and he creates piping systems for industrial processes, including some for the pharmaceutical industry. The specialty pipe systems that steamfitters create are for liquid or gasses at high pressure, a crucial aspect of the pharmaceutical production system. 

His pride in his work has paid off in other ways as well. He was named Apprentice of the Year for 2020, an honor given to one graduate and voted on by fellow graduates and instructors.

Why did you get into steamfitting? Did you always want to do this?

Growing up, I always liked doing tasks that involved working with my hands. I love to feel the accomplishment of working on a project and seeing it evolve into a final product. My father was part of UAW [the United Auto Workers] as a machine repairman. The ability to follow what he did wasn’t available to me because of the previous work requirements.

I went to college for a couple of years without knowing what I wanted to get out of it. The amount of college debt and uncertainty of it made me quit and start working full-time jobs. I worked in retail and transportation, but I never felt confident it was a career and what I wanted to do. I learned about Local 440 in Indianapolis from a friend who was a member. He explained what he does day to day. Local 440 had a great apprenticeship program that allowed me to learn and work at the same time and not have any college debt. 

That's where I found my love for working with my hands and realized I could use that as a starting point for a career.

What does a typical day as a steamfitter look like?

I work in a pipe fabrication shop. The company that I work for produces piping systems for industrial processes. My day involves cutting, prepping and welding different types of piping spools. It’s a fast-paced atmosphere, and you stay busy all day long.

What do you like most about your job? And least?

The coolest part of my job is I get to work on projects that help save people’s lives. Some of the piping systems we create are used in the pharmaceutical field. The medicines that people use every day are made with the help of people like us. 

What I least like about the job is the fabrication part. I don’t get to see it installed very often. I’d like to be able to see it put into service and knowing I was a part of it.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

When I tell most people what I do, they don’t know what it is.

When I explain that we help industries operate on a large scale, they are surprised. They understand how their house works, but don’t know how complex an industrial building can be.

What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?

I never knew about this field when I was graduating high school. If I had known about skilled trades when I was wondering what I was going to do after high school, I would have pursued it earlier.

Is there a time where you felt your job made a real impact on someone’s life?

When working on pharmaceutical projects, you are working on a process that helps people survive. I get real satisfaction knowing that my skills are used to help people every day.

What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

If you like to work with your hands like I do, this is a great opportunity to pursue. If you are a hardworking person, you will have the ability to pursue different avenues within our trade. If math is one of your strong suits, you will excel at this trade. Being good at problem-solver is also an important trait to have.

How did you train for this job?

Local 440 has a five-year apprenticeship program. I didn’t know anything about the trade before I got accepted. With the great instructors and on-the-job training, it helped me develop the skills needed to be a great mechanic in our trade. Also, by completing the apprenticeship, I also earned an associate degree from Ivy Tech as part of it.


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