Training as
a welder can open up opportunities to work in a diverse range of sectors from
construction and manufacturing to aerospace and petrochemical industries.

But despite
there being a demand for welding skills, women are still underrepresented in the
profession.

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Skills gap

There is
currently a shortage of welders in Britain and the Migratory Advisory Committee
states that 13% of welders in Britain come from the European Economic Area.

This is likely to impact the country’s ambitions to build more infrastructure such as more roads and railways in the coming years. Construction of the new Hinkley Point power station, for example, will need at least 500 welders, according to EDF’s workforce development director Guy Hazlehurst.

This
shortage arguably makes attracting more women into the profession even more
important because it can help widen the pool of people to recruit to fill this
skills gap.

Attracting more women to become
welders

But there
have been improvements made to recruiting women to STEM roles in recent years.
It is expected that by 2030 30% of core STEM roles will be filled by women.

WISE (Women
in Science and Engineering) has put together a 10 step initiative to help recruit and retain women in
STEM roles. They recommend taking steps such as making jobs more attractive by
offering flexible working and sponsoring female talent to the same extent as
male talent.

Educational outreach programs can also help attract women to welding. As part of The Welding Institute’s education outreach work, they have put together a series of learning activities and programs that start at primary school and go all the way to postgraduate level. These include work experience placements, science fairs, and hands-on workshops.

Efforts are
also being made to change society’s preconceived ideas of what job roles are
suitable for women. In the US, the hashtag #Ilooklikeanengineer is being used
to change gender stereotypes, for example.

Existing female welders can also play an important part when attracting more young girls to the profession. They can serve as role models to young girls who are considering what job they want to do in the future.

A female welding apprentice shares
her experience

Megan Clough, who is doing a welding apprenticeship at Riverside College in Widnes, shared her experience with us.

Megan said: “Although
I have been accepted, at first I didn’t know what to expect. I needed to
understand and accept the men’s personal views about me coming into their
workplace. I am the first female to work on their shop floor in over 30 years!

“I felt
great pressure to show it was worthwhile giving me the apprenticeship.”

The
apprenticeship has given Megan the chance to learn lots of welding skills,
including following instructions from drawings and calculating dimensions.

She has also learned to operate several types of machinery including guillotine, drills, and saws and she has grown confident in her abilities. But it hasn’t been plain sailing.

“The trust was hard, to begin with, I was constantly unable to do certain things.

“Now, I can
be asked to do something I’ve never done before and be trusted to get on with
it independently. I get a huge amount of satisfaction when I see the end result
of a product I have personally hand made with no assistance.”

She now also
feels like one of the team: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed building relationships
with the older generation of welders and challenging stereotypes about women
working in welding.”

And she
advocates doing an apprenticeship if you want a career in welding.

“I would
definitely advise younger people to look into doing an apprenticeship because
it’s an effective way of earning while you learn. You get real, hands-on
experience while gaining impressive qualifications and not having the hassle of
being in debt!

“Many people
are unaware that apprenticeships can lead to degrees and other types of further
education. Our generation is in high demand in the trades because they are
essential to our world in a wide variety of ways.”

She is also
optimistic about the future for women in welding: “There is so much support for
girls who are involved in this industry.

“There’s a big push for equality and diversity in the workplace, so it’s important for girls to realize they can live in a man’s world and do the exact same things men can do and even do them better!”

Start your welding training

Training to
become a welder typically involves doing an apprenticeship, although there are
other routes into the profession, including completing a full-time training
course.

“Riverside College is a forward-thinking and progressive further education provider, we value our female engineers and actively seek to support and build confidence both inside and outside of college. We have seen a rise in the number of female applications to the college for both our full time and apprenticeship provision, this is in part due to our current female engineers, such as Megan acting as student representatives; happy to encourage others considering the engineering industry.”

Andy James, Head Of School for Engineering & Motor Vehicle at Riverside College

About the author: Claire Spillane, is Finance Director at Westermans International.

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