Khanthaly Ditthiait is a 26-year old mom of two, who works as a bus painter at the New Flyer Industries factory in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Khanthaly was born and raised in St. Cloud. Her parents are immigrants from Laos, and her father works as an assembly technician at the New Flyer facility.
In 2006, when Khanthaly was 18 years old, her father said, “if you’re not going to college, I would rather you get the best wage, if you’re going to work a factory job.” At that time, Khanthaly was hired as a painters assistant.
She says, “it was ten years before they hired any women to paint the buses — I was the first girl that they hired. It was like, ‘oh, you can’t do it, you’re short. And you have boobs.’ Of course a man [said that]. But I was determined. I was like, this is what I want to do.”
In the eight years since, Khanthaly has held four different positions at the factory, moving up the career ladder from painters assistant, to LEAN hand, to decal painter, to painter.
Today, Khanthaly is a very skilled painter, able to paint buses requiring five colors and using complex lifts to reach the different parts of the bus facade. “It’s tricky, you have to figure it out,” she says. “I’m like up and around, because you have to reach what the guy on the other side reaches.” Her job requires extensive safety equipment including a hazmat suit, full-face respirator, and air line, to protect her body from the toxic paint fumes. “You should see me, I look like a midget!” she says with a laugh.
Despite the challenges, she says, “through eight years, after two kids, I’m still here.”
She is very proud of her work, saying, “I like my job. I enjoy my job. I like the challenge,” Khanthaly says. She remembers how,“one time I went to Las Vegas, and I was like ‘hey, I painted that bus!’ I still get excited. I’m really proud.”
Khanthaly speaks with pride about New Flyer’s employment practices, saying, “New Flyer is very serious about their work environment, the safety of their employees.” She also says that “New Flyer is very diverse, I work with all types of people. I work with Mexican and Chilean immigrants, and a lot of women.” Her fiancé is also a painter at the plant.
Khanthaly is now planning to go back to school to get a college degree, but wants to continue working part-time at New Flyer. “New Flyer has allowed me to do things that I didn’t think I’d ever do,” she says.
“People with degrees go to school for what I do, and New Flyer has allowed me to do that in the years I’ve been working there. New Flyer given me opportunities.”