The fairytale to tell your kids
We all know that saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Well this trady-lady looks that heat right in the eye and tells it she’ll be back for more!
Meet Sharla Knight, a San Diego State University graduate who followed up her kinesiology degree with welding courses at a local continued education institute.
In March of 2020 (you know, before things took a turn), Sharla was chosen for the “Ironworkers International Union Pre-Apprenticeship, a program designed to prepare more women to enter the rigorous profession.”
According to the Clairemont Times, “Knight placed top two in academics and was the first one in her class during the pre-apprenticeship to get spot plug certified. When stay at home orders are lifted and worksites are safely operating, Knight will start an apprenticeship with the Ironworker Local 229 in San Diego with plans of advancing to a journeywoman welder.”
We decided to make use of this “downtime” and got to know more about this bada** female fabricator.
What’s your name? Where do you come from?
I AM SHARLA KNIGHT. MY FATHER WAS A PHENOMENAL ARTIST AND IT RUNS IN MY BLOOD.
What are your hobbies? What do you do for fun?
I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED TO BE ACTIVE, WAS A GYM RAT FOR A WHILE AND RAN A PROFESSIONAL DANCE GROUP FOR BIG NIGHTCLUBS IN SD. I ENJOYED PUTTING TIME INTO MY TRUCK AND WORKING AT A METAL SHOP WHILE ALSO BEING THE LEAD BARTENDER FOR THE PADRES STADIUM AND MAJORING IN KINESIOLOGY.
How long have you been welding? What got you interested in welding?
I’VE BEEN WELDING FOR ABOUT 4 YEARS NOW. MY FRIEND ASKED ME TO HELP HIM WITH HIS METAL FABRICATION COMPANY WHERE I WAS EXPOSED TO WELDING AND GOT VERY INTRIGUED AND SMITTEN BY IT.
What is your job now? If welding is not a part of that, in what way do you use welding (what kind of projects, why do you weld, etc)?
I AM AN IRON WORKER FOR LOCAL 229.
RECENTLY, I WAS DISPATCHED TO A SOLAR PANEL JOB SITE WHERE I WAS OVER GEARED AND NOT ALLOWED TO ACCLIMATIZE APPROPRIATELY. DUE TO THAT, I HAD A SEVERE HEAT STROKE AND A SEIZURE. I AM AWAITING DOCTORS APPOINTMENTS TO BE CLEARED. LUCKILY, MY IRONWORKER FAM HAS BEEN BEYOND SUPPORTIVE.
How did you train? What welding processes do you use the most or feel more familiar with?
THE GENTLEMAN I WAS APPRENTICING UNDER AT THE METAL FAB SHOP STARTED ME OFF WITH TIG WELDING ALUMINUM. I’M PRETTY AMBIDEXTROUS (MY FATHER FULLY WAS) SO I PRACTICED FEEDING THE ROD WITH BOTH HANDS. HE THEN SHOWED ME MIG WHICH WAS A WALK IN THE PARK.
I WENT TO SDCE COLLEGE WELDING PROGRAM WHERE I PRACTICED STICK 6010, 7018, MIG, DUEL SHIELD AND FLUX CORE.
MY BEST IS WITH MIG, I BELIEVE.
Have you experienced discrimination as a woman welder? If YES, how have you handled it? If NO, why do you think that is?
I SAY NO. IT’S KNOWN THAT WOMEN ARE BETTER MULTITASKERS AND PAY MORE ATTENTION TO DETAIL. AND SINCE I’M PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY STRONG WITH A GOOD, FUN ATTITUDE, I REALLY DON’T THINK MEN MIND HAVING ME ON THE TEAM.
I MEAN SH*T, I HAVE 4 BROTHERS SO I KNOW HOW TO HAVE THICK SKIN. BUT ALSO KNOW THAT MAKING THE ENVIRONMENT FUN AND FAMILY-LIKE IS THE BEST REMEDY FOR ALL.
What advice would you give your 15 year old self? What advice would you give young women interested in welding as a career?
OH MY, I WOULD HAVE SPENT MORE TIME IN MY STEP FATHERS WOOD SHOP BUT I FEEL EVERYTHING I HAVE DONE THUS FAR LED ME TO MY CURRENT LIFE.
TO THE LITTLE ONES WHO ARE INTERESTED, JOIN A SCHOOL OR UNION BECAUSE THEY WILL GUIDE YOU INTO BECOMING A BADA** FEMALE.
Do you think welding a good career path for a young woman starting out today? What advice would you give a young woman entering the workforce?
I WOULD TELL THEM DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP.
YOU DO NEED TO HAVE THE KIND OF PERSONALITY WHERE YOU CAN LET SH*T ROLL OFF YOUR BACK. YOU HAVE TO THINK OF IT AS BEING AN ATHLETE AND HAVING A COACH YELL AND GIVE YOU DIRECTIONS BUT IT IS FOR THE BETTER.
LISTEN TO THE JOURNEYMAN AND/OR INSTRUCTORS.
JOIN A UNION! MY UNION BROTHERS AND SISTERS SAVED ME THAT DAY OF MY HEAT STROKE. THEY, AS WELL AS MY UNION REP HAVE NONSTOP CHECKED IN ON ME, VOUCHED FOR ME AND PASSED AROUND A HARD HAT FOR ME TO RAISE MONEY FOR ME. IT’S A CAMARADERIE I HAVE NEVER BEEN A PART OF BEFORE.
SAFETY IS FIRST. IT IS ALWAYS FIRST. SO MAKE SURE WHERE YOU GO THAT IS PARAMOUNT.
WELDING IS FUN AND HIGHLY RESPECTED, SO IF YOU’RE NOT SCARED, DO IT!
What has been your biggest career challenge to date?
MY FIRST DAY ON THE JOB SITE WHEN I HAD A HEAT STROKE ONCE THE DAY WAS OVER. EVERYONE WAS VERY CARING BUT IT WAS EMBARRASSING. I’M ACTUALLY A BIT UNNERVED THAT THERE WERE SAFETY PROTOCOLS THAT WERE NOT MET.
The following statements are some of the misconceptions that we’re looking to “smash”.
–Welding is not work for women
–You don’t need to be smart to be a welder
–Welding is dirty work
–There are not a lot of opportunities to advance
What do you have to say about any or all of these statements?
PSSHHH BEING A FEMALE WELDER THAT ISN’T SCARED TO GET DIRTY IS THE WOMAN YOU WANT ON YOUR TEAM! ADVANCEMENTS ARE NEVER ENDING AND RESPECT IS NEVER STOPPING!
Where do you see the Job opportunities in this industry? What’s the best path for success for both women and men, especially given the projected shortage of skilled welders?
BABY BOOMERS ARE RETIRING AND THERE ISN’T ANYONE TO BACK THEM UP. NO MATTER HOW MANY CELL PHONES AND SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS ARE MADE, THERE IS NEED FOR PHYSICAL WORK WHETHER IT BE WELDERS, CARPENTERS, IRONWORKERS, ELECTRICIANS, ETC.
MILLENNIALS ARE UNDER THE ASSUMPTION THAT EVERYTHING IS TECH NOW. NOT TRUE. WE NEED STRONG MEN AND WOMAN TO PHYSICALLY BUILD THESE STRUCTURES WE OCCUPY.
A lot of people rely on social media to find like-minded tradespeople, or they attend welding courses to interact with them. Where do you find support to make it through the industry?
LUCKILY, I WAS INVITED TO A BUILDING TRADES SISTERS MEETING BEFORE I WENT TO THE ELITE TRAINING CENTER FOR IRONWORKERS. ONE OF THE MEMBERS OF THE BTS IS ONE OF THE WORKERS ON THE JOB SITE THAT HELPED SAVE MY LIFE. I’LL BE FOREVER GRATEFUL!
JOIN YOUR LOCAL UNION, PARTICIPATE IN ALL FUNCTIONS AND ABSORB ALL YOU CAN FROM ALL THE JOURNEYMEN AND OTHER COWORKERS.