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February 20, 2008 4:59 PM

We've Come a Long Way, Rosie!

For decades, women have played a role in the welding industry. During World War II, millions of women found employment in factories and various war-industry-related jobs, as riveters, welders, inspectors and metal fabricators. “Rosie the Riveter,” a fictional character, was featured on posters and in magazines in the early 1940s to encourage women to join the workforce.

Welding, like most trades, has long been considered a man’s job; however, more and more women are realizing that welding can be a very rewarding and lucrative career. Given the opportunity, inspiration and education, women can be a valuable asset to the welding industry. Some employers in the welding industry believe women possess particular characteristics that make for good welders, including a high patience level, meticulous attention to detail, good manual dexterity and excellent hand-eye coordination.

A majority of parents want their children to go on to higher education; many are biased against seeing their children take on blue-collar careers. As well, the trades still have an image problem with women, who see the work as dirty and unattractive and the environment as hostile towards females. Most high schools have cut welding and trades-related programs. This means that both female and male students have missed out on positive experiences and exposure to this kind of work. Sadly, this has helped create a critical shortage of skilled workers in the welding industry.

I began my welding career in 1978, with my prime motivator being money. After graduating from high school, I had dreams of becoming a pipe welder and working at a nuclear plant. Little did I know back then how fascinating and diverse my journey within the welding industry would be. I feel very fortunate to have had both male and female mentors who supported and encouraged me to succeed in my chosen trade. Did I meet some resistance along the way? Of course I did. But by keeping a positive attitude, having confi dence in my abilities and continually upgrading my skills, I was able to overcome any challenges I encountered. What’s that old adage? "What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." My advice to anyone, male or female, wanting to enter this trade is to never give up. Education and constant upgrading will keep you at the top of this game. If one door seems closed, remember to stay focused and keep looking for that exact “fit” between you and your prospective employer.

The number of women working within the welding industry does seem to be on the rise. Currently at Conestoga College, where I now teach in the Welding Techniques program, we are averaging 7% – 10% female enrollment in our Welding Certificate and Welding Engineering Technology Programs. Our Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) Program also offers a welding component, and it is very gratifying to see women progress through the courses, building their self confidence while learning valuable skills. Amy Charette, a welding instructor at the South Campus of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton, says the Institute's welding programs have also been seeing a steady increase in the percentage of female students. At present, they have approximately 17% female enrollment at their location. According to Statistics Canada census numbers, the number of women working as welders (National Occupation Classification-Statistics-Welder) in Waterloo Wellington Region (where Conestoga College is), expressed as a percentage of the total number of welders in the area, is almost two times the national average of women working in the trade. The table above shows the breakdown between males and females working under NOCS code Welder (H326).

Waterloo Wellington Ontario Canada
Total (M/F) 3,415 Total (M/F) 24,590 Total (M/F) 62,490
Female (6.5%) 220 Female (5.0%) 1,185 Female (3.2%) 2,045
Male 3,190 Male 23,410 Male 60,440

Statistics Canada, 2001 Census: Specialized tables for the Local Training Boards of Ontario
Information supplied by the Waterloo Wellington Training Adjustment Board

With the current skills shortages facing the welding industry, we need to encourage employment leaders to create workplaces that will attract and promote women. A workplace culture that is inclusive of women has positive benefits for all employees. All employers should be re- assessing their workplaces and making the necessary changes to attract and retain skilled men and women. When diversity is valued in the workplace, effective change will take place. Questions employers may want to consider in assessing whether their workplace provides a positive environment for women include:

  • What is your current ratio of male/ female workers?
  • Are men and women promoted equally?
  • Are the average wages equal for men and women?
  • Are your job titles and job descriptions inclusive of women?
  • Are the physical working conditions appropriate for men and women?
  • Do your turnover rates compare equally for men and women?
  • Do all your workers feel they can contribute to decision making, and do women feel they are part of the team?
  • Does your company have clear policies regarding violence and harassment in the workplace?
  • Are educational opportunities and training programs available for both men and women?

With the critical shortage of skilled workers in welding and welding-related fields, we need to educate our daughters, sisters and mothers that they can have exciting careers in this fi eld. Together, we can help end the shortfall of skilled workers and inspire the next generation to take on the challenge.

Laura Potje, A.Sc.T. is a Professor at Conestoga College in Waterloo, Ont., where she teaches in the Welding Techniques program. As well as holding her Welding “Red-Seal” inter-provincial journey-person's status, she is a graduate of Conestoga's three-year Manufacturing Engineering Technology - Welding and Robotics and the two-year Welding Engineering Technician Program. She has held a variety of positions in the welding industry, including as a pressure-pipe welder, welder-fitter, and welding technical sales representative.

This article was originally published in Canadian Welding Association Journal, Winter 2008 Issue and is reprinted with permission

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