NEW Opportunities for Women in Skilled Trades

Written by: Asra Jawaid
Written by: Asra Jawaid

Whoever said that women can’t weld, build electric circuits, design robots, or operate construction equipment, should visit San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California. Earlier this month, the school hosted 150 high school girls for the school’s first-ever Non-traditional Employment for Women (NEW) career program. The program gives female high school students from the California counties of Stockton, Linden, Tracy and Calaveras an opportunity to learn about the many technical career pathways available to them. Gillian Murphy, Dean of Applied Science, Business, and Technology, is the brains behind the NEW program. She explained that the event is about opening young women’s eyes to different career opportunities. The fact that many of the featured careers offer high-paying salaries doesn’t hurt either. “A lot of them have never had the opportunity to experience some of these choices, so that doesn’t mean they’re going to be a welder or going to be a doctor, or whatever. It’s choices,” she said.

On Friday, November 4th, NEW participants spent time with faculty in different technical courses, including automotive, engineering, and robotics. They got the opportunity to do hands-on shop work and brainstorm about career choices. In room 141, Delta College student Brian Seuss showed Bret Harte High School senior Samantha Frank how to bend and shape pieces of metal using Lazze equipment. This is just one of many collision repair and restoration skills that students learn in the college’s Automotive Body Repair and Restoration. In nearby room 129, program participants learned how to weld metal letters of their initials and how to properly use plasma cutting equipment and safety gear. “I think of it as jobs I never thought I’d be coming out and doing,” said 15-year-old Madison Retes from Lincoln High. “It’s not that hard.”

Like Retes, many young women don’t realize they have the opportunity to learn and thrive in well-paying technical careers such as welding and automotive repair. Dressed in a T-shirt with the phrase “Say Yes to New Adventures,” Delta College professor Adriana Brogger said that no more than 25% of women work in technical trades. Women are well represented in important jobs such as child care and retail, but these often have lower salaries and they don’t address the skills gap in manufacturing. “Women in non-traditional careers are so needed,” said Brogger. When she addressed the 150 high school girls in attendance she made sure they got the message. “I really believe that girls can do anything,” said Brogger. “Just like the Beyoncé song says, girls run the world.”

High School Students participate in the hands-on workshop portion of the Nontraditional Employment for Women event at San Joaquin Delta College.
High School Students participate in the hands-on workshop portion of the Nontraditional Employment for Women event at San Joaquin Delta College. Photo: Clifford Otto/The Record

Delta College Board President Claudia Moreno echoed Brogger’s sentiments. “You guys are the future of our community. You are the people that we’re going to be looking to for economic development,” she told the assembled NEW program participants. “Career Technical Education is the gateway for many of us to succeed in this community and in this society.” Moreno speaks from experience. She arrived in the United States at age 12 without knowing a word of English and began working in a cannery. She later graduated from Delta College and has served on its board of trustees for four years. If Moreno’s story of overcoming adversity wasn’t motivation enough, the heartrending tale of keynote speaker, Gina Lujan, couldn’t help but inspire a new generation of young women to action. A teenage runaway at the age of 14, Lujan dropped out of school in the seventh-grade. By the age of 22 she had five children and was living on welfare. This bleak set of circumstances could have easily stifled any future aspirations, but Lujan rallied. Tapping into a previously dormant entrepreneurial spirit, she opened her first business running a flea market and never looked back. Today, 25 years later, Lujan is owner and CEO of Hacker Lab, a thriving Sacramento-based business that offers education, tools, and working space for designers, coders, entrepreneurs, and makers. When it comes to the future of women in the workplace, this self-made woman does not mince words. “My idea of non-traditional is pushing yourself, going against the grain,” said Lujan. “Non-traditional’ should not be a word; we should have the opportunity to do whatever we want.”

If you or someone you know is ready to go against the grain and take that next step towards a rewarding future in a welding or welding related profession, AWS can help. Check out the wide range of comprehensive and engaging online courses available at AWS Learning.