Welding is dangerous, requiring specialized shields and protective clothing to protect the eyes and skin. Nothing flammable can be worn, including fingernail polish, hair spray and body spray.
For most working in the male-dominated profession, beautification essentials would likely never be pondered as a safety precaution. But for three new female welders in training at Southwest Colorado Community College, they’re not only mindful of the cosmetic elements they adorn, but they also recognize they are a minority.
“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 nurses assistant without any experience in metal work. She admits extra caressing and charm were required to convince her husband of the career move. His greatest concern was for her safety, she explained.
“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 per hour in the health-care industry, the potential to triple her paycheck as a welder helped ease any doubts, she added.
“I’m going to frame my first check stub,” she concluded.
Guill enrolled in SWCC’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 emotionally, and look forward to forming literal metal bonds throughout their training.
“Manipulating metal is pretty awesome,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s just cool.”
With a tattoo of Rosie the Riveter on her arm, Fitzgerald has always admired the women of World War II who volunteered to stand up against tyranny by working to build the country’s warplanes, tanks and battle ships. She recently lost a close friend who worked as a riveter during the war, who shared some great advice, Fitzgerald said.
“It doesn’t matter what you want to be,” said the 33-year-old. “Put your mind to it, and give it 100 percent.”
While the women cannot wear a dress to class, Fitzgerald said she could still wear one when she’s not welding. And the threat of dirt under her fingernails or grime smeared on her face, neither are a factor, she said.
“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 aspect of welding. She believes her women’s intuition will even give her a leg up; citing women have more patience and dedication. With three decades of experience in the field, SWCC 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 SWCC, students are taught four basic welding methods — stick, tig, mig and flux cored welding. There are some 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 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 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.