From Race Cars to Cannabis Equipment: One Woman Welder’s Fast Track Journey

When you hear someone in the cannabis industry talk about their nine-to-five, you typically don’t picture high-pressure welding, beautifully intricate designs, or a UV-protective helmet sitting atop the shoulders of a soft-mannered individual. However, when it comes to Julie Hardy, that’s exactly what you’ll find.

Based in the small town of Kelowna, BC, Julie comes to work every day and designs, cuts, and shapes metal for Vitalis Extraction Technology, the largest supercritical CO2 extraction equipment company serving the cannabis industry in North America. She’s the only full-time female welder on the team of six, and was the first employee to be hired by Vitalis back in 2016. What she has learned in a new and emerging industry while working in a position typically held by males can be used to inspire all women looking to make a name for themselves in cannabis.

I wasn’t always a welder. In fact, before I was a welder I would have considered myself a traveller; having been to 27 countries was always my biggest accomplishment.

In the early 2000s, I was traveling the world by cruise ship. The ship was called the Universal Explorer SS, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh. The program took 800 university students, staff and faculty on a 100-day learning voyage around the world while students studied at sea. After cruise ship life I traveled to Australia and New Zealand, where I lived until 2006.

When I returned to Vancouver, I was fortunate to be hired into a manufacturing role at a local company. There I learned of an opening for a welder position and decided to try my hand at it. I had never welded before, so in order to learn the ropes I worked full-time during the week and practiced welding on the weekends, on my own time. I knew I was going up against talent and experience, neither of which I had when it came to welding, so I did everything I could to become proficient in the little time I had. Long story short, I got the position, and my career in welding was launched.

Every position I’ve held in welding has been exciting and challenging. I started my career making race equipment for Indy Car, Daytona and Formula 1. After a couple of years in that industry and doing contract work around Kelowna, I decided I needed to achieve professional welding certifications, known as tickets. While working full-time I attended school full-time, eventually obtaining several welding certificates and tickets from the Okanagan University College in Kelowna.

At the same time, I was building everything from stainless waterpark attractions and features to a 320-foot vehicle-passenger ferry boat called the M.V. Columbia in Nakusp B.C. These projects taught me to weld stainless steel, which led me to Vitalis.

One day while I was working I received a call from James Seabrook, the Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder of Vitalis Extraction Technology. He needed some welding help, so I started working for Vitalis on nights and weekends, while still working full-time for Waterplay during the week.

When I started doing work for Vitalis, I wasn’t always certain about going into the cannabis industry. In fact, I rarely even thought about it. But when I saw the extraction systems and what they were able to produce, I was in awe. Everything about them was amazing and I knew immediately that I wanted to be more entrenched in this business any way I could. As luck would have it, a few contract hours led to a few more, and I was hired on as one of the first full-time employees for Vitalis in November of 2016.

Working in cannabis has proved to be more challenging, and more rewarding, than any other industry I’ve worked in. Since working with Vitalis I’ve been empowered to work towards and apply for certifications that not only help Vitalis but also help me as a professional welder. It has also allowed me to be more accepting of an industry that previously I knew nothing about. I love coming to work everyday knowing that by building top-notch extraction equipment, I’m helping countless people gain access to a quality product that just a short time ago they wouldn’t have had access to. Knowing that the end result – cannabis extracts – can truly change lives provides invaluable fulfillment every single day that I come in to work.

Upon entering this industry, I was amazed at how many different avenues you can pursue as a welder in cannabis. While many people coin welding as a “man’s job,” what they don’t know and what I want to promote is that welding is actually a great career path for a woman. Some businesses even seek out women for specific welding positions, as we tend to have higher attention to detail and more patience.

I tell my story in hopes that it empowers other women to pursue a career that may seem off-the-beaten-path but is perfect for them and helps others. I see a lot of potential for women paving the way to trade careers such as welding. I think being able to say that not only do I love my job, but that it also helps countless individuals is more than I could ask for, and I can only hope that this leads other empowered women down a similar path.