As we all know there are many pathways into a welding career. Based on my extensive study (aka anecdotal reports) most women welders initially learn welding from a male family member, a male mentor, or a male friend. Metal artist Laura Knight learned to weld copper water lines with a plumber she dated, then married an air conditioning technician who welds steel. “I learned wire feed welding from him,” she says. Fab shop owner Debra Montgomery “….started out learning a little bit [of welding] from an ex-boyfriend who had a little Miller 110 welder he used for working on a hot rod he was building.” And growing up with a mechanical engineer for a father, t.v. host and fabricator Jessi Combs has been welding for as long as she can remember even though she wasn’t always great at it. “But that’s what school and practice is for,” she says. Granted, it is not a scientific analysis, but even our most recent “New Rosie,” Ilana Poulin, first learned welding from her father.
While your boyfriend, your brother, your father, or your shop teacher may be able to spark your interest in welding, to really succeed—especially as a woman—you need to make sure your skills are top notch through education and certification. As a woman, like it or not, you may need to prove yourself over and over again each time you show up at a new jobsite. As Naomi Buechman says, “Being a woman in some towns is still a challenge too, but I always go prepared with helmet over shoulder to prove that I can weld just as good, or better than any guy on their shop floor.”
Bottom line: the more education you have to go with your experience, the more employable you’ll be, and the better wage you’ll earn.
If you’re just getting started in the welding industry, check your local community college or government sponsored regional occupational training program where you’ll often find courses in the basics of welding and metal fabrication at a low cost.
For a more robust educational program, you may consider a trade schools—the American Welding Society offers an online welding school locator. If you go with a trade school, keep in mind that while the tuition may seem high, there are often scholarship opportunities (check your local AWS Chapter) as well as low-cost student loans–you may end up more employable than if you had taken a basics course through a regional occupational training program.
Be sure to ask about the school’s job placement rate, and what the average starting salary for a graduate would be. Make sure you understand when you’ll have to start paying back any student loans and how much you’ll have to pay each month.
For even more insight, ask around town: talk to folks at your local welding supply shop, attend a local chapter of AWS, and make use of online forums to find out which schools have good reputations. Talk to students who have graduated from, or are attending the schools you are interested in.
If there is a local company where you would like to work, connect with someone in their HR department and ask what they look for in a new welder and which schools they have hired from.
If you’re already working in the industry, find out if your employer offers tuition reimbursement for you to attend classes to improve your skills. Having a highly qualified workforce is usually in a company’s best interest and it’s certainly in YOUR best interest to keep your skills fresh and honed.
Join your local chapter of AWS. Mixing and mingling with others in your industry will help you stay on top of the latest trends and educational opportunities in your area.
Arc-Zone.com: online supplier of high performance welding accessories, and host of an online welding library where you can learn about choosing the right welding helmet, proper eye care for welders, tungsten electrode geometry, not to mention all kinds of information about TIG torches and MIG guns and Plasma Arc welding. (Yes, this is a bit of a shameless plug… but seriously Arc-Zone.com has a ton of information and you can learn a lot by poking around the website and looking at products and reading about how they are used.) Be sure to check out the Welding Links as well for a whole list of professional welding associations and manufacturers’ websites.
Careers in Welding: information for welding professionals, students, and educators from the AWS and the National Center for Welding Education and Training.
National Center for Welding Education and Training: a collaboration of community colleges, universities, workforce agencies, and welding business and welding industry members.
WeldingWeb: online forum for welding pros and welding enthusiasts from all over the world!