Monday | 27 January, 2014 | 12:58 pm

Welding women

By Gretchen Salois

While efforts to recruit women into the metal fabricating industry grow, numbers suggest a long way to go

January 2014 - Investing in education has long-term benefits but can also have some pitfalls. The idea is to educate yourself to be attractive to potential employers so you can get a job, therefore justifying loans or debt incurred while in school. That said, an increasing number of graduates are finding themselves the recipient of a diploma and not much else. Of 2011-2012 college graduates surveyed by Accenture, 41 percent say they are underemployed. More and more, students are looking for other ways to prepare themselves for possible careers by considering the metals and manufacturing sectors. But women in particular have a ways to go.

In Accenture’s 2013 College Graduate Employment Survey, despite having a degree, nearly 63 percent of those surveyed say they will need more training in order to get their desired job. In fact, more than 77 percent expect their first employer to provide formal training but fewer than half say they actually received any. Of those with a two-year degree, 52 percent said they will need to get a four-year degree to get the job they want. 

MM-0127-webex-welding-image1The stigma behind jobs in the metalworking and manufacturing industries includes a dingy workplace and soot-filled lungs. However, more and more community colleges are offering courses in metalworking skills, alerting students to hands-on careers that require not only physical skills, but aptitude in math and problem solving. In the State of North Carolina, its Back-to-Work Grants offer students the potential to learn skills needed to land a good-paying job and have career stability.

Program potential

Women aren’t the first to jump on board to a career in welding. Dr. Matt Meyer, associate vice president for STEM Innovations, a N.C. community college system, says while the North Carolina student population is 61 percent female overall, only nine percent of them are enrolled in technical programs. “There exists a serious interest gap among females relative to manufacturing-related education and training programs in North Carolina,” Meyer says. “We are examining outreach practices to increase interest in STEM or manufacturing programs among female students. Back-to-Work was not designed for this specific purpose; however, anyone who is underemployed, unemployed or a military veteran, can take advantage of the program.”

Enrollment throughout the state continues—at Surry Community College, lead instructor in welding technology, Michael G. Dixon, CWI, CWE, has 32 students and just two are women. A Back-to-Work grant allowed the school to purchase much needed welding equipment, including nine new Miller Dynasty welders, MIG welding equipment, Lincoln 450 multiprocess machines, a Miller 652 Delta as well as a Lincoln robotic education welding cell, among others. Students are also able to receive American Welding Society certification for MIG and Stick welding. 

“We let students know upfront what is expected of them from the industry as well as what to expect,” Dixon says. “Sometimes students think they’re going to be the top person on the floor and make top pay right out of the gate and are surprised when they have to work their way up like anywhere else—those kind of expectations baffle me.

“Employers want more than one set of skills,” he continues. “They don’t want someone who can just run a trigger on a MIG and run a bead, they want someone who can think on their feet and possess multiple skill sets.”

While female enrollment is low, Jessica Dunning, one of Dixon’s students, says that other than a career working with computers or IT, welding is a leading industry to consider. “It’s something that will be around a long time and will only grow. Welding has always fascinated me,” Dunning says. “If this is something you truly want to do then go for it! Being a woman doesn’t matter—I’m around all guys and I weld just as good if not better than some. Just because it’s a ‘manly’ field [it] should not hold you back.”

As demand for talent in the welding industry grows, welding student Eva LaRue McMillan also believes she is equipping herself in a field of work that will allow her to have a steady job. “I chose the welding industry because of the need and demand for welders... I like the fact that the things I put together... are going to stay strong—I take pride in the work I do.” MM

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