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Andrea J. Burney, APR

Director of  Public Relations



Mary Ellen Trotter - welder

Mary Ellen Trotter in DCC's welding lab.

DANVILLE, VA, December 3, 2014 – The women in Danville Community College's Welding Technology Certificate Program are defying the odds by training to join the ranks of the male-dominated field. They believe the benefits of being a welder, among them high earning potential and ability to travel, will make any challenges they face worth the while.

“It’s fun for me…the thrill. It’s just exciting,? said student Mary Ellen Trotter. “I get to work with fire and sparks and make things melt. It’s a danger and a challenge. Every time you do a weld, you have a little bit of pride.?

Trotter is a student in female welding instructor Debra Smith’s class. She and Emmerie De Leo, a May 2014 graduate of Chatham High School, and Eboné Richardson, a graduate of DCC’s Middle College program; both students in welding instructor Herb Hardy’s class, aspire to join the roughly five percent of professional female welders nationwide (source: Economic Modeling Specialist International Occupation Report).

“Welding is hot, it’s dirty, it’s dangerous. You have to wear protective gear. You can’t wear nice clothes. You have to leave your jewelry at home,? Smith said. Standing at five feet tall, Smith doesn’t fit the profile of a typical welder, but there is nothing that she would rather do. And for the women like her who are willing to work in the environments a welder has to endure, the financial and personal rewards can be great.

Trotter’s experience training for a career in welding has been, in a word, “liberating.? The single mother previously worked as a legal secretary but didn’t make enough to support her family, so when she was laid off from her job, she looked for what she termed a “manly alternative? career with higher pay.

“Welding looked like the most exciting and also the one that would pay the best,? Trotter said. “I also wanted to get into something that could take me anywhere I want to go.?

The pay scale and opportunity for promotion is higher for welders willing to travel or do the dangerous jobs. Trotter is willing to do both. She has her eye on the United Kingdom, where she wants to do structural welding. The median annual pay for an American welder is $39,110 according to occupational employment statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. However, highly skilled welders, such as traveling industrial pipe welders, underwater welders and military support welders, have the six-figure salary earning potential of a doctor or lawyer, without a four-year college degree. Students in DCC’s welding program can finish in three semesters. Hardy said he has former students making as much as $80,000 per year.

Richardson said the money welders earn was the first thing that attracted her to the field, along with the nature of the job – actively working with her hands instead of sitting at a desk all day. She anticipates starting at $20, maybe even $30 an hour, if she goes to a coastal area to weld. De Leo plans to join the Navy and be a dive welder, going underwater to weld underneath the ship. She knows the risks.

“It’s kind of dangerous, because if you stay under there too long, it puts a big strain on your body,? De Leo said.

The challenges of welding go beyond the demanding nature of the job and less-than-comfortable environment. Richardson, De Leo, and Trotter all knew that they might be viewed with skepticism, as women in a job typically categorized as “masculine? work. Richardson knew that most of the males in the welding field wouldn’t think she would be able to do the job, so she has set out to prove them wrong, working “harder than everybody else? and practicing her welding skills constantly. The hard work is paying off for her and De Leo, who have already begun helping their male classmates with their welding skills.

“They’re coming to us for help instead of us coming to them,? De Leo said, beaming with pride. She was the first one in the class to weld a perfect bead, created by holding the welding stick a quarter-inch from the metal and moving it from left to right in tiny circles.

“We (women) are just as capable, and, I think, better. Welding takes patience and it takes precision. Women have that,? Trotter said.

Trotter was unsure about enrolling in welding at first but felt more comfortable knowing a female instructor was teaching the class. She said she hasn’t been treated any differently than her male classmates in the program. Her advice to females considering training for a career in welding but hesitant to do so is “Just do it.?

De Leo expressed confidence that she had made the right decision, as well.
“It’s a really great career and plus it’s extremely fun,? De Leo said. “You’re able to show people what you are capable of doing.?
Outlook for Welding Profession, Nationwide and at DCC.

The future is bright not only for the female students currently enrolled in the welding program at DCC but for the College’s welding program and the welding profession as a whole.

Hardy said the demand for welders has been high ever since he first entered the field in the 1970’s. The petroleum industry, oil refineries, heavy construction, heavy equipment manufacturing and infrastructure constructions (railroads, bridges, etc.) are examples of the industries that rely heavily on the skills of welders. While the job growth outlook for welders from 2012 to 2022 is not particularly high (six percent), skilled welders with up-to-date training should have good employment opportunities, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook.

DCC is responding to the demand for welders on a local level, by constructing a 7,500-square-foot facility to house the welding program, with a projected opening date of fall 2016. The facility will feature all new equipment and 20 welding stations, so instructors will have the ability to conduct more than one class at a time.

“It (the facility) will probably be the nicest one in the state of Virginia. It will definitely be the newest one,? Hardy said. “It’s going to be a dream come true for anybody that’s interested in welding.?

The welding department currently is housed in the Charles R. Hawkins Engineering and Industrial Technologies Building. For more information about the program, contact Herb Hardy at 434.797.8545 or Debra Smith at 434.797.8589, or click here.


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