‘Women In Welding’ helps close accessibility gap in male-dominated industry
According to the American Welding Society, women make up just five percent of the total welding workforce.
Utah State University, Moab (USU) is trying to close that gap by offering the university's first welding workshop just for women.
At USU’s Moab campus, Joanne is decked out in gear.
She sets aside her face-covering helmet, and then adjusts her thick, spark-resistant gloves.
Firing up the angle grinder, Joanne gets to work.
Four other women look on and encourage her.
One is welding instructor Chloe Wilson, who says a lot of welding work is in the details, you need time and a cool head to get things right.
Each woman in this group has moved slowly and methodically as they work on ‘de-burring’ welds on a bike rack.
“People say that women make good welders because we’re detail oriented and patient, and I’m seeing it right here,” Wilson jokes with the group.
USU’s first Women in Welding Workshop was held over four weeks in early spring.
Funded partially through the university’s Center for Intersectional Gender Studies and Research, the workshop aimed to make welding more accessible to women.
“It’s really quite unusual isn’t it to see a bunch of women doing something like this,” remarks Joanne, finishing her turn with the angle grinder.
She wants to learn skills because she collects antiques, and welding could help her repair old pieces.
“I typically do a lot of woodworking. I’ve built pieces of furniture and I use a sander. And so I think that [welding] will help me. Although I’ve got probably all the antiques I’m going to buy, I’m already an antique myself,” she said.
Like Joanne, most women signed up for this welding workshop to learn how to repair and construct things, including art.
Several say they’re inspired to continue learning.
That’s good news for instructor Wilson, who points out that women make up just five percent of the welding workforce.
“So the welding industry is 90 to 95 percent men, there’s not a lot of female representation in it,” said Wilson.
That’s not because women aren’t interested in welding, according to Wilson.
USU-Moab’s first Women In Welding Workshop filled up in about two days.
Over 30 people are currently on a waitlist for future courses.
This shows Wilson there’s a real accessibility gap in the industry.
“The amount of women that are welding professionally, and the amount of women that are interested in having access to this industry and training in this industry – there’s such a big gap there,” she said.
“And so I hope to do what I can in Moab to bridge that gap.”
As older welding professionals retire, the American Welding Society projects an industry-wide shortage of workers in the hundreds of thousands by 2027.
Welding encompasses everything from boilermakers to sheet metal workers, structural metal fabricators and fitters.
Wilson herself worked in home construction and sheet metal fabrication.
And she says throughout her own education and work experience, she never saw another female welder.
“I wish that I had had a space like this to train in. And had access to female welders. And had been trained by female welders. Because the experience as a female welder is just different,” said Wilson.
“…I think a lot of women see the men in this industry and don’t see a lot of female representation, if any. And so it’s intimidating to them because they don’t see themselves represented. I think having a female instructor makes them more comfortable to come in here, and know that they’re surrounded by women, and that it’s not intimidating because it’s not all men like this industry traditionally is.”
Workshop participant Carmen says learning among women, and from a woman, in a traditionally male-dominated field does make a huge difference.
“I’ve been doing a lot of different courses where it’s just specifically for women because of that environment. For me, at least, I feel comfortable failing. I feel comfortable asking questions," she said.
”[Welding] has just always been an interest of mine. And I’ve never had anybody to teach me really, so it’s been really nice and [Wilson’s] been so supportive. Her attitude about getting women in welding and making it accessible has been something I didn’t think I’d ever get to experience. And I actually signed up for the welding sculpture class this fall.”
Wilson says she’s excited that this workshop is helping women become more comfortable with welding and inspiring students to seek out more skills through standalone specialized classes or earning their welding certificate.
“My big hope for [workshop students] leaving this class is that they have basic foundational skills that they can use at home, to build stuff at home and repair stuff at home,” said Wilson.
“And then also I hope that if they had fun here, and they liked it, that they will come back for more.”
In the final class of the Women in Welding Workshop, students worked on individual projects.
One student made a home address sign, another made a shoe rack, others made small metal sculptures.
“What’s exciting to me is that they can make something functional or aesthetic that they can have at home to look at all the time, something that they’ll build in here and be proud of and be able to show off,” said Wilson.
“Yeah, this is the cherry on top.”
Due to high demand, USU-Moab plans to offer more Women In Welding Workshops this year.
Their standalone and certificate courses are ongoing on the semester schedule.
For more on USU’s welding program visit moabtech.usu.edu.
This story from KZMU was shared with KSUT via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including KSUT.
Copyright 2023 Aspen Public Radio.