Women in welding is not a new concept; during World War II many of the welders on the liberty ships were women.
Helyn A Potter became Rosie the Riveter and joined the war effort when her husband was away in the Army Air Corp and she had to fend for herself. After only 90 hours of training she could run a straight bead at perfect penetration. She was hired at the Curtis Wright Aircraft Plant for 65 cents an hour where she welded parts for the P-40 War Hawk (Flying Tiger,) C-46 Commando Transport and the Helldiver.
During the recent Certification Awards Evening of the Southern African Institute of Welding (SAIW,) quite a few ladies received welding inspector qualifications. Judy Bosch received Inspector Level 1 with distinction, but out of 80 qualifications awarded, only six were ladies; that is 7.5%. In Cape Town the statistics are a bit higher, with female graduates representing 12.5%. Sean Blake, technical management at SAIW, says that women possess certain characteristics that make up a good welder, including great hand-eye coordination and patience. A misconception is that men will be better at welding due to the metallurgic nature of the business. In truth, as far as TIG welding and precision welding is concerned, woman are better at it due to the female finesse. It has also been found that women are better at the high quality welds required, where men are better for the heavy rugged welding. A woman’s professional role in the metal-trades is increasing as women discover alternative opportunities previously dominated by men.
Carmen Adams-Hoffman, the career development project manager for MerSeta, working closely with SAIW on the WorldSkills Competition says that “women and men who are inclined to choose welding as a career should be supported to perform at their optimum. It is great that diverse contexts where any gender is comfortable to work together to deliver quality in the workplace can be created. Gender should not matter, but more what talent and skill is being displayed. It is a total misconception that women will not cope with the heavy work of welding or that welding is a dirty environment. With new technologies the welding environment has completely changed and women cope very well in the environment.”
A woman who embraced the career opportunities the welding industry offers is Mariszka van der Linde who grew up in Heidelberg, Gauteng, She moved to Cape Town and took up a position with Reflect All Compressors, a compressor company that takes quality seriously, being inspected by AIA, a SANAS approved inspection body. The inspection process alerted Van der Linde to the career opportunities as a Competent Person (CP.) In order to gain accreditation from SANAS, a CP needs to comply with ISO 17020 and SANS 10227 standards. One of the major obstructions to CPs complying with SANS 10227 is meeting the educational requirement for the Head of Inspection. Van der Linde therefore took up the challenge and started studying through SAIW, while also doing a Human Resource Management degree through UNISA. “I enjoy the work and the course immensely. While the work can be hard, it becomes easier as you get used to it,” says Van der Linde.
Adams-Hoffman contends that welding is a good career choice for women. It pays well and if you are physically fit and able there is no reason why a woman should not go into welding. It is a misconception that female welders will start acting like men. It is possible to keep your femininity while being a welder; identity, personality and character are not determined by a career choice. The quality of the welder is also not determined by gender, as internal and external motivators will be at play. It is also a misconception that small built woman cannot enter the welding industry. Being in a male dominated industry herself, she relies on technical, task oriented people regardless of gender. “I’ve always enjoyed good working relationships with males. I come from an education and development angle and so I keep what I’m good at and remain who I am in all negotiations and engagements,” says Adams-Hoffman. “I think if you keep to what you know and are experienced in, it is better for all parties.”
Judy Bosch, who has been working for the engineering firm Specialist Mechanical Engineering for six years, feels that perceptions about women in welding have changed dramatically over the last couple of years. Whereas in the beginning of her career she often got snide remarks, she is now accepted as an equally qualified and capable professional in the industry. Bosch started her career as a draughtsman, but with her husband being a welder she quickly became intrigued by the career choice and when a position opened at the firm, she jumped at the opportunity. “It is a total misconception that women are meant to be in the kitchen and men do the hard labour,” Bosch contends. “These days the best chefs are men and women can hold their own with any manual labour, especially with the new technologies available. It is a very interesting and rewarding career choice,” she says. “The training at SAIW was fantastic and a lot of effort was taken to prepare us fully with the knowledge and skills needed to enhance our careers.”
While being in a metallurgical world is a tough career choice, it is rewarding and possible to succeed says Adams-Hoffman. She is married and has a 14 year old daughter. She loves gardening, writing and cooking, yet she manages to balance her roles as a mother and a wife with her position in a male dominated industry. Her advice to women who would like to go into welding is to plan the learning pathway carefully, keep a well-balanced life so that you get everything you need from life and from relationships and have the vitality to reach for what you need from creation.