Welding is dangerous, requiring specialized shields and clothing to protect the eyes and skin. Nothing flammable can be worn, including fingernail polish and hair spray.
For most welders, cosmetics are an unlikely concern. But three female welders training at Southwest Colorado Community College must be mindful of such safety precautions along with their minority status in a male-dominated profession.
“We will have to work extra hard to prove ourselves,” said Jenevieve Guill. “We’re stepping into a complete unknown world, and we’re going to have to work harder to excel.”
A 44-year-old mother to four daughters, Guill is fresh out of a 24-year career as a certified nursing assistant without any experience in metal work. She admits extra charm was required to convince her husband of her career move. His greatest concern was her safety, she said.
“I’ve always been fascinated about how things come together, and I’ve always wanted to do something completely out of the box,” she said.
Earning $20 an hour in the health-care industry, the potential to triple her paycheck as a welder helped ease any doubts.
“I’m going to frame my first check stub,” she said.
Guill enrolled in SCCC’s Associate of Applied Science in welding technology program in August. On the first day of class, she was elated to see that both Kami Fitzgerald and Marian Yazzie would be her classmates. The three women fashioned an immediate connection and look forward to forming literal metal bonds throughout their training.
“Manipulating metal is pretty awesome,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s just cool.”
With a tattoo of Rosie the Riveter on her arm, Fitzgerald, 33, always has admired the women of World War II who volunteered to build the country’s warplanes, tanks and battleships. She recently lost a close friend who worked as a riveter during the war, who shared some great advice: “It doesn’t matter what you want to be. Put your mind to it and give it 100 percent.”
For Fitzgerald, the dirt and grime that come with welding won’t cover up her identity as a woman.
“It all comes off in the wash,” she said, giggling. “I still clean up real nice. I can still look like a sexy girl if I need to.”
Before enrolling in the welding program, 50-year-old Yazzie said numerous people told her she was too old to compete in a male-dominated industry. She didn’t let their doubts stop her. She’s using the two-year welding program as a stepping-stone. Her ultimate dream is to become an engineer.
“I wanted a new challenge,” she said. “I wanted to prove that it doesn’t matter how old you are. You can do anything you want.”
The 20 men in her class do not intimidate Yazzie, and she works hard to stay in shape for the manual labor of welding. Citing that women have more patience and dedication, she believes her female intuition will give her a leg up.
With three decades of experience in the field, SCCC faculty welding instructor Dave DeLozier agreed.
“In my 30-year career, I’ve only worked with one female welder, and with the more tedious welding I knew I could always count on her,” he said. “She was a lot more dexterous with both her hands and her vision, and she was more attentive to detail. Those traits made her a great craftsman.”
At SCCC, students are taught four basic welding methods – stick, tig, mig and flux-cored welding. There are nearly 180 advanced welding processes, such as friction and sonic welding, and students are introduced to some of those as well.
“I stress to the students, make every move count,” DeLozier said. “Make every weld like someone’s life depends on it, because it may.”
For Guill, that life is hers, and the example she sets for her daughters.
“This is a huge responsibility,” she said. “When I step onto a job site, and I’m the only female, then I have to do a hell of a job. There could be female welders who follow me, and I don’t want to mess it up for them because I did poorly.”
As for her daughters, who ask why mommy is a welder instead of a nurse, Guill said her message was simple for them and for other girls who might be dreaming of becoming a princess when they grow up.
“If you build your castle yourself, you can guarantee that it’s going to be sturdy,” she said.