How many women welders and metal fabricators are there in the U.S.? It can be a little challenging to find the numbers. I recall reading a statistic from 2007 that claimed 6% of welders were women. Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent data shows that as of 2011 women make up 5.4% of “Welding, soldering, and brazing workers.”
Then there’s the 4% of “Sheet metal workers”, 1.5% of “Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters”, .6 % of “Structural iron and steel workers”, and18.1% of “Metalworkers and plastic workers and all other”.
The numbers don’t really matter though–bottom line is that most women who weld are either the only woman on the job, or one of a handful at their place of employment. That’s not the bad news–though it would be nice if more women pursued jobs in the trades–the bad news is that women are recovering more slowly than men from the most recent downturn in the US economy.(1)
The good news is that women can take a number of steps to ensure their continued success.
1. Know your job. And by that I don’t mean just the procedures you are required to perform for your current position, but learn TIG welding, MIG welding, learn about welding pipe, become skilled at titanium welding. The more you know about all kinds of welding the more valuable you will be as an employee, and the more employable you will be in the long run.
Look into the community colleges or even government-sponsored training programs. For example, San Diego County offers a Regional Occupational Training Program that includes Welding & Metal Fabrication (at little cost). Check for similar programs in your area. Many offer evening classes to accommodate your work schedule.
2. Know the industry. Join the American Welding Society Section nearest you, or at a minimum get on the AWS website and read the news, sign up for the newsletters, and stay informed.
3. Know the tools of your trade. Again, not just the ones you need for your current position but make sure you’re familiar with as many fabrication tools you can get your hands on. Ask those experts to show you how to use them–unless someone is a real jerk, he/she will be flattered to be considered an expert.
If hands-on experience is not an option, peruse websites like Arc-Zone.com 😉 who provide tons of great information about their products–check out the Purge Gas section where you’ll see specialized trail shields and purging cups, purge baffles and plugs, and even inflatable purge bladders and all the latest technology in high-purity welding products. You can also learn from Manufacturer’s websites : Miller, Lincoln, ESAB, and Thermadyne to name a few. And don’t forget about trade magazines and professional associations. Arc-Zone has a great list of links to peruse.
The bottom line is that to stay employed in this economy you need to be more than just good at your job–you need to be excellent.
(1) “Slow and Positive Job Growth for Women and Men Continues in April” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, May 2012. http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/slow-and-positive-job-growth-for-women-and-men-continues-in-april/at_download/file