At 32, Regina Escandon has now been welding professionally for seven years. She first picked up a torch at just five years old after her dad suited her up and had her TIG weld a soda can.
But welding wasn’t the first thing she thought of when she started her career path. She worked as a cashier, a waitress, an orthodontic sterilizer, a Certified Nursing Assistant working on a Dementia / Alzheimer’s unit, and a supervisor at a group home for children removed by Child Protective Services. She was bussing tables in a local diner when a girl she worked with got her interested in welding.
Pregnant and in need of a career she signed up at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona where she earned her associate’s degree in applied science/ welding. “Tucson is a strange place to weld since the summers are ridiculously hot!” she says.
Regina’s first welding job was as an ornamental and structural field welder with Alamo Steel. She also worked as a lab tech at Pima. She holds several AWS certifications (3G (vertical up) /4G (overhead) stick and 3G/4G Dual shield) but says “The real way to learn to be a welder is in the field. You start out as a shop helper then prove yourself.”
At Alamo she did a lot of ornamental work: railings, pool fences, décor, security. “I love stick welding, outside in the elements, stinger in hand….I love the smell of burning rods.” Once she was even flown to Maui to build a railing from scratch. Regina says she was set up with “two saw horses, a sheet of steel, a welder, a grinder, and a Samoan dude named Sio.”
Regina says there’s still a lot of discrimination in welding shops and out in the field. She’s had to prove herself capable over and over, sometimes with a “weld off.” “In this day and age ‘old timers’ still think women don’t belong, but those same guys have been great teachers and even missed me when I moved on.”
By 2011 Regina had turned her Associate’s degree into a Bachelor’s in occupational education from Eastern New Mexico University and now works as a welding teacher at Cholla High School, a magnet school in Tucson.
“These days I get a lot of parents who feel I’m too young, or that a woman [welding] teacher is weird, so they must come and meet me,” Regina says.
From the way Regina answered my next question, “What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?” I’m betting she’s a great teacher:
I would say to not give up. That no matter what the hurdles are, no matter how big, how scary, and no matter who stands in your way… you can and will make it as long as you jump. And if you trip—get back up and jump again and again and AGAIN. Then once you finally land it, go and get ‘er done. Not even the sky is the limit!
Though she only has one female student in each of the classes she teaches, she has some advice for young women interested in welding as a career—“Go for it! Welding is not scary, it’s super fun!” Regina points out that women are strong enough, that working smarter, not harder is the industry rule. And at only 5’2” and 125 lbs, Regina proves it. “No one is trying to injure themselves, so use proper body mechanics, straps, forklifts, and team lifting to get the job done.”
Regina is in her first year teaching, but she’s looking forward to recruiting more young women into her welding class. And for an industry that is looking to a future with a shortage of welders, that will be a good thing.