Women in welding on the rise
Many skilled-labor jobs continue to go unfilled. To help alleviate the shortage, more programs are being designed to attract women to the trades. Cultivating a safe manufacturing environment that offers fair, equal wages also can help.
If you were alive in the '80s, you might remember the Oscar-winning movie “Flashdance” about a tough Pittsburgh woman who was a welder by trade but secretly wanted to be a ballerina. Maybe this was the first time you saw a woman with a blowtorch. While welding isn’t a traditional occupation for women, during World War II many women became welders to supply the increasing demand.
Yes, you know the famous poster of Rosie the Riveter. Although the image almost has become a cliché, if we can understand the trends of women in manufacturing, we can learn a great deal about skilled trade as a whole and why we have a lack of talent at the moment. America has millions of job openings right now, and no one to fill them.
Lack of Skilled Workers
The hard truth is millennials don't want to work in many of the key industries that drive the U.S. economy. They would much rather be in tech, education, or the arts. Because of this, there is a large deficit of skilled manufacturing workers, despite the high pay and good benefits. Manufacturing companies are scrambling to train apprentices as quickly as possible. Even in my home town, many contractors and trade companies have complained to me that they would like more business, but they simply do not have the workforce to complete the jobs.
Women in Manufacturing Down But …
Women make up only 27 percent of manufacturing workers, the lowest percentage since 1971. However, since 2004, the number of women entering apprenticeship programs has increased by 35 percent. The catch is, many women still have a difficult time getting hired to move through the apprenticeship. Old perceptions that manufacturing is a male-dominated field still exist, and women fear they won’t be able to climb the ladder. But this is changing.
Let’s follow the story of a young woman who made it her goal to become a professional metalworker in Oregon.
Her name is Mariah Holt.
Q: So, why welding?
A: I first wanted to get into welding because after high school I was kind of at a standstill. I was looking into a health care career path, but soon realized I wanted more hands-on work. I knew I wanted to be in a creative job in some way. I wanted to do something physical, or something with my hands, and one of my friends was going into welding, so I thought that seemed awesome.
Q: How did you go about pursuing that?
A: I actually went to a vocational training school. It was kind of like being in the Job Corps. When I started the training there were 10 other girls, but only three made it all the way through. Out of around 40 guys, basically 99 percent of them passed.
Q: That must have felt great when you passed. How long was it before you found a fabricating job?
A: Well, the union wasn't willing to take me, because my high school transcripts didn’t quite qualify. But the apprentice coordinator called me and told me the ironworkers union in California wanted me to take pre-apprentice training. The Gladiator Women Program was designed specifically for women. (http://www.calapprenticeship.org/) We entered some awesome competitions. I got first place in a couple! After I completed the program, I got a TIG welding job in Portland, Ore.
Q: What has been your overall experience in the industry?
A: I love it, I really do. I get to work with my hands and the money is great. I’m very thankful to be in the Northwest. I have a girlfriend who lives in Texas, she is a welder too, and she actually has faced some discrimination there. I’m not sure what it was, but overall I believe that people are getting better at creating a safe and equal work environment. We might not be all the way there yet, but I believe that the rise of other girls like me getting into the industry and the amazing programs that are out there are great signs of progress. I can’t wait to see more women find this career path.
A Promising Future
Refreshing, isn't it? It’s far from the Cinderella story of “Flashdance”; this is a real-life example of the American dream. Frankly, more than ever the U.S. needs a solid manufacturing base; we need jobs, and this industry can provide them. Manufacturing is experiencing a renaissance, and it’s time we appreciate this. We should encourage programs like Gladiators Women and educate millennials on how important it is for a nation to have a strong manufacturing backbone.
Below are some amazing resources designed for young men and women to get into the trade:
- “With nearly 2,000 active women members, the Iron Worker's Union continues to engage and recruit women ironworkers in the United States and Canada. Our new ‘Ironworker Women’ page will have news, articles, information, and updates on issues and events of interest to women ironworkers and the men who work beside them every day.”
- “The Ironworkers training facility located in Benicia, Calif., sponsored a hands-on welding training session for women this spring. The Gladiator Women Program was spearheaded by Dick Zampa, director of the Ironworkers Apprenticeship Program in Northern California.”
Careers In Welding
- “A wealth of information and resources to help students and parents follow the right path to an exceptional welding career.”
Planning a career in welding: A young person's guide
Tips for Women in the Welding Industry