In this, our second blog post on Women in Welding, we interviewed an inspirational teacher and Program Chair at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
Meet Sue Silverstein…
How did you get into the welding industry?
I started out as a machine operator in the 1980’s, but the economy got slow and the plant closed. I decided I needed more credentials and applied for apprenticeships. I served a 5 year Sheet Metal apprenticeship and became a Journey Level Mechanic. If you are a certified welder you have more job security, so I worked towards that. I later worked in industry as a sheet metal maintenance worker where I learned to do tool and die repair welding.
What do you do?
I currently teach Welding and I am the Program Chair at Milwaukee Area Technical College. I have been teaching welding for 14 years. I am a CWI/CWE and a State of WI weld Inspector which helps me do my job. I wanted to give back to students what I had learned while working – all the tricks I discovered on my own. I have write welding curriculum.
What did you study and why?
I studied welding, sheet metal layout, fabrication, and HVAC as a part of my apprenticeship and then the focus of my college education ( BS and Master’s Degree) was Adult Education, Mathematics, and Computer Technology. My goal was always to find a way to get to the technical college and help others find a way to welding as a career.
How well did your studies prepare you for your current job?
My apprenticeship was all on the job training. I do not think any class I ever took was a waste of time. My ballet classes (as a youth) helped me with balance on a ladder or I-Beam in construction. My math helped me with fabrication and layout issues. Physics helped with how better to perform work. Biology helped with understanding metal properties. Computer programming helped me to operate CNC equipment. All of my education helped me to be a better problem solver and critical thinker.
What do you like most about your job?
The thing I have alway liked most about metal and welding is that you can take this flat thing and turn it into any shape or form you want. It still amazes me what people can do both in industry and the art world. Welding is not static.
Is there a particular career track that you recommend for women who want to work in the welding industry?
I think women can do anything. I have had female students that are construction workers, working in industry, pursuing art degrees, pursuing advanced educational degrees related to welding. I think it is all a matter of interest, goals and where you want to live. Are you single and willing to travel or do you have roots and want to remain in one place? I would recommend women starting out in a smaller company rather than a large company because I find you can get more cross training instead of being pigeon holed into one job and that can happen with a big employer. Make sure you feel comfortable with the place you are going to work. There are a few places I just do not send my female students because they have not made it to the 21st century like the rest of us. There are plenty of employers that will want a woman for all that she can offer.
Welding is still a man’s world, so we as women have to work twice as hard to prove we should be here. The more education and knowledge you have to back up your credentials – hallelujah to you. I would at least have a diploma from a technical college or community college and become a certified welder. An apprenticeship is a great way to learn a trade and get paid while you work. If your goal is inspection then I would pursue a CWI. I would also try to connect with other women by joining the local AWS section in your area.