Today, the welding industry is overwhelmingly dominated by men. Here’s how one vocational school is opening doors for women who want to weld.
Four and a half percent. According to the BLS in 2017, that was the percentage of women in the welding industry. And it’s nowhere near the highest it’s ever been—in World War II, women comprised as much as 25 percent of the workforce in welding.
Here in Texas, welding is one of those jobs people typically associate with a male-dominated workforce. The statistics back up those claims. And it isn’t just reflected in the number of people who work in welding. Data suggests the average male welder’s salary is $45,961—while the average woman welder’s salary is only $31,961.
It paints a grisly picture of the state of work equality in Texas. That was one of the reasons I founded the Southern Industrial Careers Center, a vocational school focused on welding and fabrication in La Feria, Texas. A former welder myself, I saw just how low the interest was in trade occupations. But it’s not just a matter of interest. When someone wants a good-paying welding job, the resources were rarely there to help people receive the instruction necessary to land a lucrative job.
Welding should lead Texas and other states when it comes to expanding industrial job opportunities for everyone. Sixty percent of the products and machines used across the United States require welding to some degree or another. But how can women break through in welding, which has traditionally been such a male-dominated industry? What will it take? What are the challenges to overcome?
The Female Team at SICC
I figured change starts at home. That’s why the SICC is featuring a female team in a male-dominated industry. The women on my team feel empowered to share their opinions because they know I appreciate their perspective. Because the jobs we choose are downstream of society’s expectations, it’s up to teams like this to change the way people think about women in traditionally male-dominated industries.
At the forefront: providing women with the resources they need to pursue a career in earnest. Who is going to want to join a male-dominated industry if they don’t feel that they have the support necessary to be one of the 4.5 percent in the minority? In speaking with women, I discovered that support is crucial if they’re going to feel empowered to make a change.
“Knowledge is power in a male-dominated field,” said Crystal Quintero, director of SICC’s Edinburg campus. “As a director, I must present the advantages of the welding field to a prospective student. I feel empowered to know so much about a career that is male dominated and being able to make students eager and excited to learn makes my job that more satisfying.”
How to Pay for Welders’ Training
Regardless of gender, welder training is intensive—and highly specialized.
It also requires funding. For many aspiring welders, the funding issue is a nonstarter. They assume that because of the heavy resources required to train in welding, it’s not even a viable career path for them. At the Southern Industrial Career Center, we’re looking to change that. In a partnership with personalized financing and/or state grants, we look to help explore realistic avenues for men and women who want to learn how to weld. And we provide resources to help secure confidence that once they’re enrolled and graduated, they’ll have closed the skills gap between them and their ideal job. With just an eight-week program, we also think it’s worth seeking out the education that can fit into demanding schedules.
Having a team of awesome women in charge of our school’s management helps me keep refreshed with unbiased opinions. And here’s what I tell women who are seeking out positions in welding:
- Seek out your options first—before making assumptions. I get it. Four and a half percent is a dismal, and even depressing, number. But it shouldn’t be a deal breaker, either. Seek out your options for financing and enrollment in a welding school before you make a decision that will affect your career path.
- Don’t make assumptions about what you can’t do. We’ve seen countless women empower themselves with the funding, resources, and know-how to make it in a male-dominated industry. If you are interested in a career like welding, don’t let your own or other people’s assumptions hold you back. There are people out there ready to help.
- Be a disruptor. Be willing to embrace the disruptor’s role. “The biggest challenge is trying to prove yourself every time,” said Quintero. Now that she’s an admissions representative, she says that she might not know how to weld, but she knows how to advise women who do want to become welders. And she recommends overcoming the difficulty of being a disruptor by taking it one step at a time.
- Be Inspired: “I have great admiration for hard-working women in prominent roles,” says Angie Keene, recruitment rep at SICC’s Edinburg campus. “I feel proud to see a woman as the vice president of the United States; it is such an inspiration. We are capable of that and more. Also, those women that manage a business, a home, and their life.”
Ultimately, 4.5 percent is just a number. The reality is that there is already a team of women welders out there who are looking to disrupt the status quo and change a traditionally male-dominated job into a vocation for all genders. It just requires a little support, some financial know-how, and a willingness to be a disruptor.