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Career Quick Look
Salary: $32,880* Education:
Years in Field: 23 Six-month welding skills course
City/State: Bay Area, CA  

"I'm really glad I was able to work at welding for all those years," Sandy says. "I achieved what I wanted, and my daughter was able to get a good education."

Getting Started: As a single mother in her 20s, Sandy was having trouble finding work to support herself and her daughter. "This was my way off welfare," she says. "I wanted to find whatever paid the most and I could learn the quickest."

"I had an infant at the time, and I wanted her to go to college," Sandy says. "I knew I wasn't going to make it the way I was going." She saw an ad on television for the Seattle Opportunities Industrial Center, or SOIC, which showed a female welder at work. "I thought, if she can do it, I can do it," Sandy recalls. She signed up for the program and was accepted that day.

Education: Sandy spent six months training at the Seattle Opportunities Industrial Center, where she was able to acquaint herself with the tools and equipment, along with the basic skills she would need to get started. "I started in January and I was done in July," she says.

Sandy and a female friend who had gone through the same training took their weld test - which most employers require before they will hire you. "Usually they'll give you weld plates to work with," she explains, "and you give them what they want. And then they'll x-ray it or bend it, to see if it's of the quality that they want." Sandy and her friend both passed the weld test, and went to work right away at a local welding shop.

Greatest Professional Achievement: Sandy cites her two years working on the 12' x 12' wind tunnel at Northern California's Moffet Air Field as her most interesting and memorable work assignment. They were constructing a tunnel for use by NASA in testing wind resistance on aircraft. "It was so interesting to see this thing built from start to finish," she says.

"They were testing to see how the wind would flow over the wings," Sandy explains. "They could inject dye into the wind and you could see it move over the aircraft. It was just fascinating. That was probably my favorite project of all time."

Barriers: In the early days of training, Sandy's young daughter suffered an accidental burn that required a short stay at the children's hospital. Sandy would go to classes all day, visit her daughter in the evening and then fall asleep, exhausted, each night. "I just knew that I had to keep going," she says. "I really wanted to make this happen for both of us."

Once in the field, Sandy says she felt well prepared for the work, and almost never had trouble in working with mostly male crews. "I was treated well," she says. "I can think of only a couple of times where there was a problem, and it wasn't anything that I couldn't handle."

Working with Men: Whether she was working with a crew of twenty or a crew of 100, Sandy says "I was usually the only woman on the job." In the early days, it took some adjustment to working in an all-male situation. Because of their cultural training, she says, "sometimes I found that men wanted to help me more than they should." She had to learn to insist on doing "all the work that I physically could," - and in welding Sandy says there were very few occasions where her size or strength presented a problem.

In general she says she was treated very well by co-workers, "and we had lots of fun on the job." She even helped to arrange the first ever on-site baby shower for one of her male co-workers, complete with cake and punch and presents.

While there's no way to avoid getting dirty in welding, the upside for Sandy was, "I never had to put on my makeup before going out to work."

Advice for Women: "No matter what you do, just go out and do your best job," Sandy says. Most important is maintaining a professional attitude. "The men wouldn't treat you with respect if you were fooling around on the job," she says. "You need their cooperation."

Just showing that you can pull your own weight on a job is important - especially in a union situation where everyone works from the same pay scale. Having confidence in your abilities, and "conducting yourself properly" will make a good impression with any work crew, she says.

Typical Workday/Environment: As with most construction positions, welders are typically early to rise "You need to get there before work starts, get settled, get your leathers and your hardhat on," she says. "We probably work from 7 to 9:30, then take a 15 minute break, and work until noon. We'd have a half-hour lunch, then go back to work until 3:30." Depending on your skills and interests, you might be assigned to a particular area, where you're performing a weld or gouge or whatever is needed.

Sandy worked on repairing x-rays on a Moffet Field project in Northern California. Working with the tracer - a clear sheet of paper with gouge sites marked on it, "so I'd know where to gouge. I'd go in and find the inclusion where the weld wasn't sealed. I would gouge into it, I would heat the side up, then I would put the weld in." She moved from place to place around the work site, making repairs wherever needed.

Career Ladder: "Usually you go into the Union as an apprentice," Sandy says, "and you learn all the aspects of the trade." This can take three to four years, depending on the workload. "Being an apprentice can be quite grueling because you really don't have any skills, going in."

The union hall has its own weld shop where workers can go to pick up further skills or just to practice, and keep current with safety information, which Sandy says is always important. "Companies want to hire people who know the safety rules," she says. If they notice you're doing a good job, employers may request to take you on to their next job, or even hire you to supervise another project. "Some people become very skilled and they're wanted as foremen on different jobs, so they might be requested by a company. But that takes a lot of time and a lot of experience," she says.

After working in a shop environment for seven years, Sandy and her husband relocated to California, where she started to work on 'field' jobs - where she was out on the actual building site. "That was far more interesting for me," she says. While some field jobs require a heavy workload in peak periods, she found the varying schedule allowed her to spend time with her daughter. "I was able to retire a few years ago, and now I have a nice part time job nearby," she says.

Professional Associations: Member of the Boilermakers Union

Hobbies: Since retiring from welding a few years ago, Sandy has taken up knitting, and now works part time at a local knitting shop. "It's very creative process, and easy to take with you," she says. Oddly enough, she has gone from a field with almost no women to one that is almost exclusively female - but where her hand-eye coordination skills are equally important. Her daughter, now 28, is a nurse.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Welder based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition


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