Erika Diggins knows what it means to prove your worth. As a woman continuing a legacy of skilled trade work set forth by the hardworking men in her family, she has pulled herself up by her bootstraps to pursue her passion for Union welding. Now, mistakes and roadblocks can’t phase her – she’ll just figure out a solution and keep going. Hear more from Erika about her journey of persistence and determination.
Name: Erika Diggins
Location: Born and raised in New York, I am now based out of the western slope of Colorado with my fiancé, but traveling for work unfortunately I am not home all too much.
Style of Boot
8” Moc Toes are my jam! I prefer the 8” because I was an iron worker in a New York and there’s nothing worse than spraining/ rolling an ankle, I feel like they’re most supportive and keep my socks up.
What I do
I am a rig welder; I have bounced around from working w-2 jobs and contract. I have done pipeline mainline and fabrication, drilling rigs, flow lines and tank batteries. There are so many different avenues and clients to work for in oil and gas, you kind of just have to figure out what path you’d like to take, or what you’re strong and confident in. Obviously, all the math and prints take time to learn, I learn everyday something new and am so grateful for it.
A lot of things in my life have inspired me to not only follow my career path, but just in life in general. I have been blessed to have some great, hardworking, masculine men in my life. My grandfather is a master pipe fitter from electric boat in Groton, Connecticut, my father had retired from the local 157 labors Union and later achieved “master ship builder” at Newport News shipyard in knolls atomic power laboratory, and my fiancé is a journeyman pipe welder and fabricator. All of them have taught me many great things whether it pertains to work or just life.
I can’t for sure say exactly what my purpose for doing what I do is, I will say that in my journey into my craft I was intimidated, not only for the fact I didn’t know shit about shit, but because I am a female. I believe in many ways I do what I do to advocate, be persistent, show up for myself and other females in the industry. I wasted a lot of my younger years partying, having no real need to improve my life, I was a bartender in New York since 17 and had made stupid money and being self-sufficient I never really thought about “what I want to be when I “grow up”.Both my Poppie and dad have always guided me to be more, to maybe join a Union or look for work that makes America thrive, something that is a real necessity that makes the world go round, not just serving drinks to drunks for the rest of my life. I think my purpose definitely falls into being the best I can be and learning all I can and really owning my craft. I am 5 years into welding and yes, I have had my let downs, I have had bosses be inappropriate, I have felt like an idiot and fucked stuff up, but what separates you being a good welder and a great one is knowing how to fix your fuck up, and even better if no one notices them.
Thorogood boots have helped me in so many ways! First of all they are the most comfortable boot I’ve put on my feel, I won’t name names but I mean I love a good slip on everyone and again, but most I’ve tried suck, the sole is uncomfortable, they tear up, or the sticking burns up really fast, a lot of people give shit for wearing lace ups welding because they think” of they just burn up” which is inevitable with any boot welding, but if you treat your boots with some TLC they last, and honestly once they’re broken in, it’s like walking on clouds, the leather molds to your ankles and foot just right like wearing slippers. I bought a pair originally to ride my motorcycle in, and because I just liked the style but once I first started ironworking in New York I was like okay they’re perfect, flat sole, comfortable, and last long. But as the years have gone by, I’ve gone through multiple pairs (especially laces) and they never seem to let me down, they’re always the same quality as the last pair.
How Did I Get Started
I got started doing what I’m doing by becoming a welder helper first, I had already been a welder and iron worker in New York, but I knew I really wanted to work in oil and gas and be a rig welder. I would see their trucks, welding beds, big facilities and pipelines going in and I was yeah that’s what I want to do. I was a helper for about 2 years on and off, but then I’d get laid off and either find the next one or do some contract work, build rodeo arenas and pipe fence in Colorado, this was also in the mix of covid and the world being shut down which really did slow my progress of getting a pipeline weld test. Which is a battle in itself starting out because our industry really is all about who you know and the connections you uphold. I am huge on work ethic, I show up to work every day ready to put my best foot forward and prove to myself and others that women do belong out here and we are smart enough, strong enough, capable of doing a “man’s job”.
In my life I have encountered more struggles than I’d like, but that’s life! I went through my younger years with struggling to find myself for many years, I have always been the awkward, artsy, weird girl. Growing up I was kind of a loner, and still am to this day, and with my career and just getting older I feel it is very hard to find good, genuine girl friends in the world (especially when I only stay in a location for a few months at a time). Along with my job comes the stress and struggle of maintaining a truck, welding machine, and tools. There’s always something you want or need, to make your job easier, simpler, more efficient. And with that being said, those tools are usually always thousands of dollars new, or you get lucky and find other rig welders selling their older tools or getting out of the trade. My way of looking at it is yes it always sucks going through the struggles, I’ve had my truck break down, machines break down, get rebuilt, and break again, at no one’s fault other than it is a mechanical tool and anything mechanical, regardless of how much you baby it, will eventually have an issue. So, with that I’d say I appreciate the struggle for teaching me lessons and opening my eyes wider when things are going well, and nothings broke down.
The advice I would give to someone looking to get into my industry is to be patient but also persistent. Don’t be so intimidated that you don’t know all the knowledge the 50-year-old guys that have been doing this longer than you’ve been alive. Most of older generation out there is very helpful and willing to teach, but there will always be that handful of people that make you feel dumb, less than, and not wanted out there but you can’t let those emotions override your excitement and thirst for more.
*For more information on Erika's work and images, click the link below.