While the need for welders is growing, the number of women pursuing welding as a career remains small. Despite the American Welding Society predicting that by 2024 the need for welders will outstrip the available welders by 400,000 positions worldwide, female welders account for just under 4% of all welders in the United States.
But women are finding plenty of opportunity to have a fulfilling, lucrative career in welding—and the welding community is embracing them. In fact, the American Welding Society is planning its first conference for women welders this year, and initiatives like Women Who Weld and Weld Like a Girl seek to encourage more women to consider a career in welding.
Whether you’re straight out of high school or looking for a mid-life career change, a career in welding has plenty to offer women. The median hourly pay for a welder is $20 an hour, with the potential for more depending on the type of welding and the welder’s experience. With no shortage of jobs available, welding can provide a steady career for women who enjoy working with their hands and don’t want to spend all day in an office.
An opportunity for a career change
Lanae Shockley, a graduate of our program here at Missouri Welding Institute, is excited about the possibilities welding has opened for her. After earning a four-year degree in recreation, sport and park administration, she spent several years as a personal trainer—yet, still wanted a change. When COVID shut things down, she moved back to her hometown in Missouri and applied to our program.
Shockley had learned some welding techniques in a high school class and enjoyed it. “It had always been kind of in the back of my mind, but I never really thought I was capable of doing it or that I kind of fit the standard,” she said. “So, that's why I never pursued it I think until now.”
Welding offers rewards and challenges
Entering a traditionally male profession can be intimidating, but Shockley says the welding community has been welcoming:
“I'm a female walking into a male-dominant world. So, I was kind of intimidated at the beginning … but within two weeks, it was pretty clear that everybody's very welcoming, everybody's willing to help you. I really liked that. I couldn't have asked for a better experience.”
Despite being a physically demanding job – welders can spend eight to 10 hours a day on their feet in all types of weather – it offers plenty of opportunity for women. Shockley views it as a low-risk proposition:
“I just can't think of any trade where you're going to make this much money straight out of school, and you've invested only 18 weeks and $15,000. It kind of blows my mind. I feel so lucky to have found this school and this trade.”
For those women who have entered this booming field, many feel a sense of exhilaration for just being a part of it. Bailey, a Women Who Weld graduate, is in the Ironworkers Apprenticeship Program and explains how she wants to spread the word:
“I see women from the other trades on the job site, and I get super excited! I know I want to be somewhere important, making changes, and have a voice for everyone around me. So yeah, it’s definitely something I've been thinking about.”
New incentives for women
Aside from the growing interest in welding from women, the welding community as a whole is also pushing to make it easier for women to choose welding as a career. For example, the Ironworkers instituted a paid maternity leave policy in 2017, becoming the first building trades union to do so. The Ironworkers also host a semi-annual three-week pre-apprenticeship class for women interested in becoming an Ironworker. But the industry as a whole is also looking to encourage women to join the profession. The American Welding Society is hosting the inaugural Women in Welding conference this March, and also offers women-specific scholarships to help defray the financial cost of welding training.
Welding schools are working to attract more women as well. Shorter programs, like MWI’s 11-18 week program, appeal to women looking to make a career change or who want to get started in their profession quickly. The ability to move on to jobs that pay in the six-figure range appeals to all our graduates who want to start earning good money quickly, and school-provided housing creates residential options for those attending school away from home.
Shockley hopes other women take advantage of the opportunities welding can provide. She says learning to weld at MWI is “the best decision I've ever made. I wish I would've gone into it specifically, a trade like this, straight out of high school.”
Brian Hollands is the owner of Missouri Welding Institute, which trains the nation’s finest welding craftsmen using a hands-on approach, one-on-one attention and a family-style environment to prepare students for a successful career. Share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter @MissouriWelding.