Breaking Into and Navigating Male-Dominated Trades

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According to data from Burning Glass Technologies, the current welding workforce is projected to need over 470,000 welders by 2022, yet only 3.4 percent of those currently doing those jobs are women.

Similarly, in construction, only 8.9 percent of the industry in Michigan is occupied by women.

Despite these statistics, several West Michigan women and students are leading the charge in manifesting successful careers in typically male-dominated trades.

Some may think a specific educational background is needed to break into a trade, yet that isn't always the case. Erin Caszatt, Structural Detailer for Soil & Structures, notes her position—creating engineer's structural drawings using 3D software—is learned 100 percent through on-the-job training.

"Structural steel detailing acts as a bridge between the engineer and the steel fabricator," said Caszatt, who was roughly 8 years old when she first started helping her dad work on projects during their home renovation.

Caszatt, the current President of the Grand Rapids Chapter for the National Association of Women in Construction, stresses how lucky she was to have had a great mentor in her father, a true DIY enthusiast.

The nontraditional path Jen Schottke, Vice President of Operations, Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Michigan, took to her present role motivates her to share that college is a great route for some, but isn't the only pathway to success.

"I've had men question whether or not I'm the appropriate representation for the industry, particularly the trades," said Schottke. "While this doesn't feel good, the only retaliation is exceptional work. When the evidence of my ability is obvious, no one can challenge my relevance."

Abbey Hunter, welder and owner of The Hot Spot Metal Studio, studied metalsmithing at Grand Valley State University but didn't get into welding until the lead welder at a brewery she worked at as a janitor asked her to help him out.

"If it wasn't for him, I never would have gotten into it," said Hunter, noting that this mentor was a fierce advocate for her among the men who, based on her gender, doubted her welding skills.

In late 2017, Hunter purchased a space in Grand Rapids for The Hot Spot, a public metalsmithing studio for metal artists and jewelry makers that offers a wide range of tools, equipment, benches, memberships, classes, and workshops for those looking to learn a technical skill or complete a specific project.

At her full-time welding job outside of operating The Hot Spot, a positive environment makes all the difference.

"If someone says or does something offensive, deal with it right then and there.

"You have a right to feel comfortable in your environment."

Bucking Tradition

Aryana Moening, a Caledonia High School sophomore, knew as a child she didn't want to follow a traditional four-year college route. Instead, she's focusing her efforts toward potentially entering the electrical or plumbing field.

"I have always enjoyed working with my hands. I have a mind that likes to read manuals, opposed to novels. I took a couple of classes this past summer at Kent District Technology Center and saw the opportunities that were available—and it sparked an interest. There's a high demand for trade skills right now. I want to be a part of it!"

Moening, who was given her first toolbelt as a 3-year-old, adds that her family and peers have always been supportive and encouraging.

"Not all minds think alike: It's OK to not follow the norm and be yourself.

"Seek what makes you happy!"

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.

Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

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