Career Quick Look
welding skills course
"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
"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
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
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,"
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