Aug 26, 2019
Fewer than 1 in 20 welders are women and it's time to change that. A brand new safety training welding curriculum at Algonquin College in Ottowa is intending to draw more women into what has been a traditionally male-dominated profession. The 30-hour safety curriculum, called Women of Steel, was created by the Canadian Welding Bureau with funding from the Canadian national government.
It was originally developed at six universities this summer, and will now be repeated at schools across the nation. Helen and Mary Ann Gray, a mother-daughter pair from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, signed up for the safety training workshop together. Mary Ann Gray said she became involved in welding after being acquainted with the trade at her high school. "I also thought it would be a good family bonding thing to do," she said. Helen Gray said her particular interest in welding started at an early age when she used to watch her father weld. "He used to do it with the big tanks and he'd light the torch, and it was a different type of welding that he was doing. But I always was interested in it ever since I've seen him do that when I was a little kid." The university program includes an entrance to the welding profession, safety training and fundamental principles. The pupils learn the shielded metal arc welding process, also known as "stick welding" because it requires striking an arc between an electrode rod and the metal. Mary Ann Gray stated it was somewhat intimidating at first, particularly when sparks started flying. "But after a while, it got really easy and more comfortable to do," she said. Charlene Hayes, the course's teacher, said the learning of proper welding involves problem solving, safety leadership, critical thinking and coordination. Graduates will be instantly employable, Hayes said. "It's one of the best jobs on the planet." Jessica Critch, a mother of two, was introduced to welding at the Youville Centre in Ottawa before enrolling in the program at Algonquin. She said achieving the completion of her first project gave her a great sense of pride and accomplishment. "It was just great being able to see metal lying there and then seeing the final outcome, knowing I was the one who did it." Now, she wants to seek a profession in welding, where women currently make up less than five percent of the workforce, according to the Canadian Welding Bureau. Critch said there were no women's washrooms at her co-op placement at Taggart Construction, but that didn't throw her off her game in any way. "Once they knew I was OK being in the shop with men, they were completely willing and accepting and fully involved in me wanting to pursue a career in welding," she said. Once the women complete their 30 hours of safety leadership training in welding, they must pass a test to obtain their Canadian Welding Bureau qualification.
A new welding program at Algonquin College is aiming to attract more women to a traditionally male-dominated trade.
The 30-hour course, called Women of Steel, was developed by the Canadian Welding Bureau with funding from the federal government. It was piloted at six colleges this summer, and will now be taught across the country.
Helen and Mary Ann Gray, a mother-daughter duo from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, signed up for the program together.