More and more women are considering welding as a career. Among them is Christine Simmons, a student at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, who is one of 30 winners of the ThomasNet.com North American Scholarship, announced today.
Men have long dominated the welding field, but recent data show that women are donning welding helmets in increasing numbers. Although only 7.8 percent of welding, brazing and soldering workers were women in 2011, their numbers had grown from 26,000 in 2010 to 39,000 in 2011.
The future looks bright for aspiring women welders — with the availability of apprenticeships, grants and scholarships that support women in nontraditional fields and a growing number of role models. Emerging technologies and the demand for skilled talent has contributed to job growth in the field, and median salaries for welders in the 50 percentile are $36,609, according to the latest salary data on the Payscale.com website.
Simmons recently spoke to IMT Career Journal about what motivates her to join the ranks of women welders.
What are some of the reactions you get when you tell people you’re going into the field, especially knowing that most welders are men?
Simmons: Most people are really surprised, shocked, and of course, supportive once I tell them about my passion for the field. The initial reaction is surprise –especially among the older people. Younger people I talk to tend to be more supportive.
I knew that this was not a female dominated field, and I wanted to tackle this challenge and show everyone that I can definitely be a top-notch welder. My instructor at Dunwoody is female. This is her first year teaching at Dunwoody and she is fantastic. In just the first two weeks of school, I have learned so much from her.
At what point in your life did you realize that welding was the right path for you?
Simmons: It started in high school. We were exposed to welding for just a couple weeks in my freshman year. I was a bit scared of welding then. But when we had nine weeks to experiment with it in my sophomore year, I thought, “Wow, this is kind of fun,” and I found that I was actually good at it. By my junior year, I signed up for the contracting class for welding which was two hours in the morning. I had a different instructor each year. Both complement me on my talent as a welder.
What, specifically, do you envision for your future career?
Simmons: I would like to be a traveling welder. There is so much to see and do in our country. I truly love welding and the thought of being in different work places and situations is going to be exciting. The options are endless.
Why did you ultimately decide to attend the school you’re in now? What part of the school/program attracted you the most?
Simmons: [Someone I know] attended Dunwoody when he left high school. He always told me what a great school it was, and he has a fantastic career now in welding. I could have attended my hometown college, but I decided on Dunwoody, because their placement after completion is phenomenal. My last two years of high school for two hours each morning, I worked on the same equipment that I would be using at college at home. Coming to Dunwoody will expose me to many different types of welds and make me more marketable.
Why is it important for more students like you go into the welding profession?
Simmons: We have always been a country that has built things. We see in the news that our bridges and buildings are in need of repair. There is constantly new construction going on everywhere in the country. In recent years, there have been fewer individuals entering the trade occupations and more attending four year college. This has created an opportunity in the job force for more skilled trade workers.
The ThomasNet North American Scholarship Program was launched to attract the next generation of workers to manufacturing fields. Each award winner received a $1,000 scholarship to pursue studies at two-year and four-year colleges, or vocational technical schools. For more about the effort, see the site here.