Think females can't weld? Think again

March 10, 2009
By: Marty Rice

During World War II, many females filled work force roles in traditionally male occupations. After the war, most left these jobs, but that doesn't mean women are any less able to fill them. Experience has taught welding instructor Marty Rice that females make danged good welders.

"Girls can't weld!" That's what one of my students nicknamed "Bucky" said many years ago as a lone female walked into my all-male welding shop. Seventeen guys and one gal, I can only imagine how she felt walking into that class.

I had just completed a teaching internship at a trade school and had taught a female student who had done well and was hired for a really good job when she graduated. I also had worked with a couple of women who were danged good in the field. One of them was in my Iron Workers Local, and she could weld and work iron with the best of 'em. She'd walk the high steel in a flash (no arc welding pun intended), carrying leads and tools as if it were no big deal. So I knew girls could weld, and much to his surprise, Bucky soon found his female classmate could weld better than he could!

A few years ago, I had a group of business leaders come through my class, and I pointed out a girl who was doing really well. One of the ladies said, "You have a what?" I again said I had a girl … and she again said, "You have a what?" I guess she saw the "what the dadgummed heck are you talking about?" look on my face and explained that I must have meant I had a "female" in my class, not a "girl."

Yeah, OK, I had a female in my class. Heck, I didn't know "girl" had turned into a bad word! What's funny is my "female" student told me, "Hey, Mr. Rice, I don't know what that was all about, but I'm a girl and proud of it!"

So if I'm not politically correct here, I apologize because I sure as heck don't want to offend. But the whole point of this article is girls make good welders. So please excuse my Texas slang, 'cause to me you're either a guy or a gal. (Unless you had a sex change … then you're either a guy who was a gal, or a gal who was a guy.)

Although one semester I had four girls in my class, most of the time there are only one or two. I always tell my guys they need to be respectful, and I am very happy to say that in 15 years, they always have been. There might be a bit of drama now and then, but that is just part of the high-school scene. For that matter, that is part of the shop-and-field scene too. I've never had to discipline any of my guys for disrespect, and that makes me really proud of them.

Women in the Trades

During World War II, millions of women joined the work force in what were then untraditional female roles. With so many men in the services, many women took over traditionally male jobs in manufacturing and construction. Rosie the Riveter became the figurehead for this movement.

Even though women had done an outstanding job of keeping the country thriving and had proved they could do the jobs, after the war most were forced back into traditional roles or had their pay cut drastically.

Now, over 60 years later, there are still a lot of negative attitudes toward women in skilled trades. That's a shame because women can weld and weld danged good! Does this mean all women can become successful in the welding trade? Nope, some women aren't cut out for welding. Is that a sexist statement? Nope, because there are a lot of men who aren't cut out for welding either! There, now I've offended equally.

'Don't Take Any Crap'

The good news is that even though some males still don't like or want women in welding, many are seeing that women can hold their own on the job. Laws are now in effect that protect women from being harassed, and a guy can get into some big-time trouble if he crosses the line. I tell my girls that the first thing they need to do is act confident and not take any crap.

Are they gonna get kidded, and be tested? You betcha, and they're gonna have to learn what is OK and what is crossing the line. I tell my girls it's OK to kid around but not if it makes them feel uncomfortable.

Every job has an old hand who will take care of the new ones, and hopefully a girl will have a few guys like that. But it is first and foremost up to the women themselves to be tough and know the difference between playin' around and going too far. What I stress most is that a girl should not be made to feel uncomfortable on any job.

Be Confident

I also tell my girls their skill and hard work will earn them respect just as they do for a guy. And that's where the confidence comes in. Not just looking confident, but being confident, because they know that with their education and training, they can do the job and do it right. They've practiced in school by burning rod, burning more rod, and then burning even more rod. The more you burn, the more you learn.

Girls in my program have won district, state, and national competitions. One of my girls who had won third place in our state skills contests came back to visit when we were preparing for that same competition. She told my guy student who had entered the contest to "weld like a girl and you'll do good." Sure enough, he won state that year.

I'm really proud that I've had quite a few girls go out into the predominantly male work force and become valued craftsmen …er, uh, craftswomen. And with the projected shortage of welders, it should get easier for girls to get into the trade. There's a great link to an article about the shortage in my article "Why the heck would you want to weld?"

Is welding easy? Heck no. Can girls do it? Heck yeah. Yes little Bucky, girls can weld!

A few of my girls…

  • Melanie – District Skills Champ, 3rd Place State Skills
  • Jamie – District Fabrication Champ, 1st Place State Fabrication
  • Candace – 2nd Place District Fabrication, 1st Place State Fabrication Technical Information, Lincoln National Arc Welding Contest Merit Award
  • Amber – Air Force C-130 Loadmaster Search and Rescue
  • Rebecca – Texas A&M Engineering
  • Lindsey – Sheet Metal Fabrication Shop / Apprentice Sheet Metal Workers International
  • Teresa – Seabees Steelworker
  • Ronni – Lincoln National Arc Welding Context Award; Handcrafted the Heaviest Diamond Plate, Scale Model, Authentic Playable Cello in the World
  • Elissa – Skills USA State Project, 1st Place for Fabricating Ancient Beaten, Bent, Etched, and Engraved Shield
  • Kaelee – Top Honorable Mention in National Art Contest
Marty Rice

Marty Rice

Contributing Writer
High School Career Center in Texas
Marty Rice is a welding instructor at a high school career center in Texas. He is an honorary member of the Ironworkers Local 263.


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