A welding instructor at WyoTech's campus in Blairsville, Penn., teaches students the fundamentals of welding
Rebekah Thompson welds metal art sculptures at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Joann Dove has been a spotwelder with Voss Industries for 40 years.
With positions for skilled technicians growing faster than the supply of workers, a shortage of skilled welders is predicted. Such shortages can cause shops to outsource these jobs overseas and, as it becomes more difficult to find good welders, plant operators are turning their concerns toward workforce development.
A potential solution to this problem is to interest women in the industry at a young age by motivating them to consider non-traditional careers. Currently, less than 1 percent ofWD&F readers are women, reflecting the overall industry employment ratio, and many women are unaware of the varied opportunities and applications in the field. Experienced welders can mentor young women, instill interest in their children, or teach training courses at local community colleges or through non-profit associations to inspire talented women to enter the field to keep these jobs domestic.
Rosie's Girls is a three-week, Cleveland-area trades exploration summer camp for girls entering sixth through eighth grades. The program is licensed by Hard Hatted Women of Cleveland, Ohio, and was designed to build self-esteem, physical fitness, interpersonal cooperation and leadership skills. Offered July 11-29, 2005, it included a two-day welding unit taught by Richard Hart, welding instructor at the Cleveland Municipal School District's Max S. Hayes High School.
Twenty-four girls learned about welding safety, donned welding gear and used the welding facility at the high school to make a steel nameplate. The girls enjoyed the experience, but were disappointed it was so short. Hart plans four days of welding next year, and girls enrolled in the program will create a metal sculpture. He says, "When I get youngsters in my classroom like that, the only thing I want to teach them is to get rid of the fear they have. When they find their comfort level, learn they're in control and take the energy of the machine, then they can begin to learn."
The girls worked with a 6,000-degree arc and a 2,000-degree mildsteel puddle. They learned stick welding using an E-6010 0.125" electrode in the horizontal position. They used an oxyfuel torch to cut a piece of steel, then welded the two pieces together with a T-joint and wrote their names on the plate.
Hart teaches an adult training program and Project WELD at the high school. Project WELD (the name is an acronym for "worthy employment, leadership development") is a threeyear program that covers basic and advanced arc welding, and job placement. Of his 13 second-year students, three are women; of seven first-year students, three are women; and the ninth-grade introductory class is 50 percent women.
Given the opportunity, inspiration, motivation and education women can prove to be a valuable asset to the welding industry. What follows are brief profiles of women welders who are practicing their skills in different applications. While they acknowledge that men are better at some types of welding and have greater physical strength, they contend that women offer better skills in hand-eye coordination and detail work. Together, men and women welders can end the shortfall of skilled workers and inspire the next generation to pick up the torch.
Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Miss., offers a one-year welding certification program. Three women have completed the program, and Rebekah Thompson, a work-study student who assists instructor Rodney Steele, is currently enrolled. Although she is a premedical technology major, she is an abstract metal sculpture artist and does gate work. She enrolled in the program because it provides her with a trade in which she can earn money to put herself through school and it gives her a sense of job security to have a skill she can fall back on.
Thompson says, "I like making stuff and working with metal and fire as an art." With oxyacetylene and TIG welding she says she can get detailed and also get a pretty weld without having to grind it down. She especially loves using aluminum because it is so difficult that it presents a challenge. At school she repairs tool chests in the backs of trucks for students and teachers. Welding students are allowed to repair anything except the muffler on a car due to the danger of a gas explosion.
She says welding is a hard job to do and is physically stressful. She would not want to do it every day. She also says there is only one other woman in class and the men assumed they could not lift or carry the supplies and equipment or run the machinery. They thought she was weak until she proved herself to them. She says she is not as physically strong but can cut metal and lift more than they thought she could. She learned so quickly that she started to teach them what to do and assists the men in class with their projects.
Janelle Schlegel is a journeyman ironworker with Local 17 in Cleveland, Ohio. She has her welding certificates, but works as a rod buster installing rebar. She studied welding for one year in her apprenticeship and says, "I hate welding because I am a sissy and don't want to get burnt up." She passed the vertical pass test, though it is more difficult than overhead pass, and had to re-take her overhead pass test because "the slag falling into my shirt gave me a phobia about burning myself and melting chuckholes in my skin."
With regard to women in welding, Schlegel says, "They say a woman has a better touch because we have more patience and a steadier arm." One of her male shop teachers, who was a welder for over thirty years, told the class that the best welders in his years of experience were females. In her current position, Schlegel uses a torch and tank to cut off the end of a steel bar in an area where she cannot fit a saw. For instance, when ironworkers put up a form, it requires a 1.5- to 2-inch clearance to the rebar so that when they peel off the form the rebar does not stick through the concrete. If the bar is too long, they nip it off with a welding torch. Seventy-five percent of ironworkers in the Cleveland local do rod work.
Arnetta Thomas' great grandfather was a welder, which is what sparked her interest in the trade. Formerly, she worked as a corrections officer and experienced career burnout. She decided to go through Job Corps to attain her welding certification. At that time, she met a volunteer with Hard Hatted Women who encouraged her to take the Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program. Thomas says PAT looks good on a resume, prepares a woman physically and mentally for the apprenticeship program, and assists in job placement. She is now a firstyear apprentice ironworker with Local 17 and MIG welds toolboxes and hitches for Tracom of Cleveland, Ohio.
Thomas says, "I like playing with fire. It's just a form of art for me. It's not something everyone can do. You have to have a steady hand, get burned, wear the equipment, and it's hard for a woman. Companies say the position is filled or they will call you back and never do. They think you can't lift parts and will complain because it's hard work."
Once her apprenticeship is over she would like to work in a constructionrelated field because it is more physical than plant or factory work and she likes working with her hands. She would love to weld for NASCAR or do underwater welding. She is MIG, TIG and flux core certified, and agrees that most women are better at TIG due to hand-eye coordination, though stick welding is hardest for her. She feels the industry is still male dominated and many men do not want women in the field. She says, "I advise women as welders, don't give up and fight to get in these doors because we can do anything a man can do. It's not a man's world."
A former temporary office worker and second-generation ironworker, Fenique Parrish heard of the Hard Hatted Women PAT Program from a friend. HHW got her an interview with the ironworker's Local 17 in Cleveland, Ohio, and her first job was on the Ohio turnpike. She is now a journeyman ironworker and works short-term jobs through the union. Her current position is a six-month assignment stick welding girders on the U.S. Steel job in Gary, Ind., for Pirson, a contractor headquartered in Belgium. When completed, the project will be the largest blast furnace in the world. She has also done replacements and maintenance in steel mills, small specialty jobs, Crocker Park retail development's structural steel, and handrails in Case Western Reserve University's newest dormitory. She does UTNR welds and they have to be good. They are X-rayed for quality.
Parrish enjoys stick welding, and was attracted to ironwork because of the welding and burning aspect. Her father was a rod buster for the ironworkers but she works structural and is more involved in the welding aspect. She says the job pays well and she likes the environment, especially working in the steel mills. "I don't do the same things every day and I get to travel," she says.
As for being a female in the field she says, " I'm pretty strong and some men assume I can't do it but I can." Other men assume she is an ironworker and they have a "you-dowhat-I-do" mentality so she doesn't have to prove herself. Some men tell her not to lift something for fear that she will hurt herself. She says she has had no negative or bad experiences and is fortunate that there have not been many problems. She adds that being a double minority does not keep her working, and only one job kept her on because of a minority requirement.
There are a few women in her local and a few women in the field but in some areas where she works, like Dayton, Ohio, or West Va., there are no women on the job. When asked why she believes this to be the case, Parrish says, "A lot of women don't know how to go about it. It is not well publicized. Women find it's more difficult than they expect because it's labor intensive and dirty." She also gets burned a lot and has burns everywhere. She says, "I don't like getting burned. I'm scabbed up right now." But she does enjoy the lack of repetitiveness. It may take two days to weld a project then she is on to something different. One day may be spent on a vertical weld, the next day on a flat weld. She also connects and builds up iron, puts in bolts, finishes them and connects them.
A welding engineer with Lincoln Electric, Cleveland, Ohio, Dave Barton says, "We have several women in our sales operation that are fully trained in hands-on welding. I'm not sure how many we have in the plant welding on a daily basis. We have usually found women to be better welders than most men — better hand-eye coordination than men. We also see many women welders internationally, but it depends on the country and the culture. It is surprising there are many very good women welders in China."
Darcy Hickman has been a technical sales representative with Lincoln Electric in Houston, Texas, for five years. She demonstrates and sells welding equipment. Hickman graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Ohio Northern University. She had one year of training in welding school with Lincoln before going into the field. The students studied in a classroom five days per week for eight hours per day from June through November then went into the facility to weld, and then on to sales classes.
Hickman trained on the engine driveline while welding choke assemblies. Since Lincoln does piece work, it was fast. "I had my hood down all day and welded all day," she says. Of 15 people in her training class, three of them were women. Although she had done MIG welding before, this class was the first time that she tried stick welding. She says "it is harder because you put an electrode in a stinger and strike it. The challenge is to keep it lit and from sticking." She says TIG is most difficult because both hands and feet are used. It takes coordination, and is more labor intensive and sweaty.
She felt that being a woman was an issue in pipe welding because she had to use a file to make the lip of the pipe and then file it down without a grinder. She says, "I was buff then. It
all morning to file the bevel, then we welded in the afternoon." The women in the class all passed the test the first time, which Hickman believes is due to their hand-eye coordination.
When dealing with decision makers and with end users, she wants to make them both happy so that they like the product and the process. Most of her customers feel "if a woman can do it, I can do it", which motivates them. But, inevitably, she says some men find her intimidating and feel threatened.
As for the number of women that she deals with in her career, Hickman says that high schools ask her to speak in their vocational education programs to welding and mechanics classes. She encounters many women students enrolled there, but only about 5 percent of her customers are women. Of 25 mechanical engineering students in her graduating class, there was one other woman and only six or seven women in her entire graduating class of 75 students. In her five years with Lincoln, she has met two women welders.
Hickman says her interest in welding began as a child. She grew up around Go-Kart racing. Her father taught her to change the oil and her brother is a mechanical engineer. She was attracted to a male-dominated field because she believed she would find a job due to the diversity requirements. She "sees something different every day and meets new people every day." Because her territory is Texas, there are a large number of offshore platforms and pipelines, companies that build vessels, and shipyards and barges. She says it is the largest area for welding in the country.
Amy Sherwood is a technical sales representative in northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania for Lincoln Electric, Cleveland, Ohio. She has a degree in welding engineering from Ohio State University where she learned electrical, mechanical, material science and chemical engineering. Classes focused on the arc itself and the matetook
rials used in welding. She started out as an industrial systems engineering major, welded in class, and liked it so much that she switched her major to welding engineering at the end of her freshman year. The school also promised a 100-percent job placement in the field. There were two other women in her graduating class of 27.
Sherwood never wanted a desk job. Getting physically involved keeps her day interesting and makes the day go faster. She enjoys a challenge, likes to get her hands dirty, enjoys working with various people, and gets to weld while she demonstrates equipment and teaches training classes for local companies. "Due to the large number of steel mills in my territory and the repairs they require, I mostly do MIG/gas metal arc welding and sub arc welding involving lots of heat and big, heavy welds," she says.
With regard to being a woman in the welding industry she says, "I have never been yelled at or cursed at or thrown out of a plant like my male counterparts. People are polite and respectful." Then she tells a story of a gentleman who was not accepting of her in the beginning. He would not even look at her, kept his back to her and avoided her until he had a major problem that she fixed, earning his respect. Now, he is one of her best customers. "You have to show you know something. Weld for them or solve a problem for them," she says.
She believes it is unfortunate more women do not consider a career in welding. When she goes into the high schools to train students on equipment updates, she makes a point of talking to the women in welding programs in order to be a role model and inspire them.
Voss Industries has employed Joann Dove as a resistance welder for 40 years in Cleveland, Ohio. She works as the lead person in the aerospace cell making parts for Boeing and Airbus. She uses a Taylor Winfield resistance welding machine to make V retainer couplings and T-bolt band clamps. Prior to starting with Voss, Dove was a waitress and had no welding training. She learned on the job and trained within the company.
She enjoys her career because she likes the variety, has the opportunity to troubleshoot and problem solve, works for herself and has a sense of pride in an employee-owned company, works with clean products, is seated before a machine, uses lightweight materials, and only experiences an occasional blowout. She sets up her own equipment, maintains her own tooling and does pull tests on the weld.
In spot welding, the majority of Voss' welders are women because "it takes a different dexterity with their hands, and requires patience and detail work," Dove says. She advises women considering a career in welding, "Don't judge too quickly, don't listen to stories and get your own first-hand experience."