A man dons a welding helmet, his gaze fixed on the metal object in front of him, sparks fly from his welding torch—it’s the classic image of a welder.
But, it’s dated. The face of a welder is changing, taking on new forms as men and women— young and old—find their passion in metal fusing.
Who are these modern welders? Read their inspiring stories below.
3 Stories Proving Welders Can Come from All Walks of Life
1. Young Woman in Training Defies Traditional Gender Roles
“I remember the first process I tried, which was stick welding, and with that first strike I fell in love with it. Everything about it I love.” — Haley DeMitchel
DeMitchel is a 20-year-old female pursuing a welding degree in Michigan. Although her dad and grandpa initially turned her onto the trade, she learned the basics from a paraprofessional, or teacher’s aide, in the shop of a local technical education center for high school students.1
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Why did DeMitchel choose to study metal joining? She loves seeing what she can make with metal and fire. When a college research paper revealed just how big the wide world of welding is (more than 50 percent of American products are made with welding), her love for the trade only deepened.2
“My job is pretty much playing with fire to create millions of objects. Knowing this makes my passion burn even more for this trade!” said DeMitchel.
Following her dream hasn’t come without its challenges—and not just in the classroom, though she admits learning the art and basic principles of welding hasn’t been easy, either. But DeMitchel says defying the traditional gender role of the male welder has been the greatest obstacle to overcome on her path to becoming a metal master. Proving herself to her male counterparts, however, is a source of pride:
“Heading into welding I was told I’m going to have the weight of the world on my shoulders because I’ll be tested no matter where I go as a female. I’m fine with anything they throw my way, because it’s just showing myself and others that if I can do it, they can do it too. I want to be a positive role model for everyone.”3
2. Young Woman Enrolls in Trade School to Turn Her Life Around
Kayla Johnson struggled to find a good job after high school, moving from dead-end job to dead-end job. She moved to Florida to enroll in Tulsa Welding School after some pushing from her dad.
“I’ve always been a hands-on person. I feel like I’m a hands-on learner,” Johnson said. “The hands-on was what helped me through school. “I could not sit in a classroom for five days out of the week.”
After graduating, Johnson started her welding career in the field and made more money than she had thought possible—enough money to go on vacation in the Keys.
“I’m really grateful for me and my husband to have really great careers,” Johnson said. “I am able to be a co-bread winner in our family, so we’re able to live a lifestyle out of most people’s budget.”
Johnson loves her career, but her family is the most important part of her life. Being a welder allows her to live a life that lets her focus on her family as much as she focuses on her job.
“My career goes with me wherever I want to go,” Johnson said. “I can get a job anywhere. I kind of work for myself. I can always find a job; I can always find money. If I want to work 8 months out of the year, then I can work 8 months out of the year. If I want to work 12 months out of the year and work less hours, then I can do that, too.”
3. All in the Family: Father Teaches Daughter the Trade
“Dad was a welder, but he welded nuclear stuff until I was 12 or 13.” — Jimmy Byrd, a professional welder since age 18 and owner of Byrd’s Welding and Propellers.
Now a third generation of the Byrd family is learning to weld: 30-year-old Kristin Byrd is joining the family business. Both of her brothers have plied the trade, though one recently changed careers.
After trying her hand at a string of technical programs and trades—industrial mechanical systems, industrial technology, nursing, driving logging trucks and even performing maintenance at a biomass plant—Kristin finally decided to pick up a welding torch.
She and her boyfriend, Jeffrey Wildes, spend their days practicing welding pipe in preparation for a skills evaluation at the Local 177 of the Plumbers and Steamfitters union, where they hope to land apprenticeships.
Why are they learning pipe welding? Because it will allow them to weld just about anything, says her father, who points out the technique is the most demanding and exacting:
“I’m not the best, but I’m one of the most versatile,” said the elder Byrd, attributing his diverse skillset to his mastery of pipe welding.
For the time being, the younger Byrd is hard at work making precise cuts in sections of pipe and patiently welding it back together as her father inspects her work.4 Hopefully, she will find the same fulfillment in a career as a welder as her father and grandfather.
Explore a Career in Welding
As these three stories show, just about anyone who really wants to weld can learn and even pursue a career in it.
Even more exciting is the fact that welding is used in so many types of industries all around the world:
- Military support welding
- Traveling welding jobs
- Much more5
If you’re passionate about welding, you might consider exploring where a welding career could take you.
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