When Kaylyn Roloson enrolled in Arts and History at McMaster University she didn’t think she would end up as a welder.
However, as she advanced through the program, she found a liking to work with steel.
“I was making sculptures out of steel and welding them together and cutting like using a plasma cutter and cutting everything out,” Roloson told CBC Hamilton.
She had hoped to become a teacher but that didn’t work out. Then she found out about steel construction company Walters Group, a partner in the Skills2Advance welding program and their Women of Steel initiative.
“[I saw that] Walters has a partnership with Mohawk [College]and it’s a program where you actually get paid co-op once a week while you’re in school, so I thought that would be a really interesting way to kind of learn more.”
That was eight years ago. Now she’s working as a quality control inspector at Walters, and she loves it, but when she started the company she wasn’t used to a woman who welds.
“At the beginning, I was told I wasn’t strong enough… So I had to learn different ways to build things because I wasn’t as strong as my other co-workers.”
She also said she felt targeted more often than others.
“If I was caught talking or something, I would always get in trouble compared to other people. I felt like because I was a woman I was always on watch at the beginning. I definitely got past it now. Just figuring out different ways to do things and become stronger just by doing it every day. [I started using] muscles that I never had to use … You learn the smarter way to do things.”
She said “the hands-on aspect to getting to use the tools, getting to use the drawings, I’m constantly on my feet, and staying active and learning … I’m not often bored.”
Women of Steel program looking to get more female-identifying people in the trades
Despite the struggles, however, Roloson is still looking to encourage women to join the welding trade.
“I find a lot of the women in this trade they pay more attention to detail. They become the best welders, a lot of them. Once they start welding, their welds are better than most of the men because they care.”
Skills2Advance is a free program by the Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie looking to help people get training for welding as well as manufacturing and warehousing.
They emphasize attracting more women to the skilled trades through their Women of Steel program.
According to Executive Director of the Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie Danette Dalton, one of the goals of the program is to make women feel welcome in the trade.
“It was important for us to provide that specific outlet for women to train together in a less stressful environment.”
Dalton said the program also aims to not only end the stigma associated with working in the trades, but also to provide women with tools to build confidence at work.
“We’re doing workshops around financial literacy and budgeting, budget planning. We’re offering other certifications such as first aid, CPR, mental health, first aid, forklift training, reach truck.”
“All sorts of different things that will enhance their resume, improve their confidence, and make them more work-ready and more transferable from one industry to another.”
Skills2Advance also offers a Mind Over Metal program that targets people of all genders.
“We’re just hoping that this program really inspires people to see things differently, and to give themselves an opportunity to learn something new.”
Other training programs also looking to get people interested in the trades
The YWCA in Hamilton is also looking to break barriers and help “women and persons will disabilities and mental health barriers enter the skilled trades.”
According to a news release, the $400,000 investment will provide a year-long program run by the YWCA in Hamilton.
“More than 90 per cent of jobs in the skilled trades are held by men – even though women represent half of the workers across the country,” said CEO of YWCA in Hamilton Denise Christopherson.
“It is just as important that women and non-binary people have access to these well-paying and high-demand jobs as it is for the industry to benefit from their unique perspectives, skills, and experiences.”
Registration is open for a new group to start on June 13.
“Don’t be afraid to mess up”
Roloson’s advice for women thinking about entering the trades is simple, “don’t be afraid.”
“Don’t be afraid to mess up. You’re gonna make mistakes, and you’re gonna learn.”
“I wanted to be an expert right away, but it all comes with time.”
She said she’s happy to see more women come into the industry every day.
“A lot of the women who are going into school, are sometimes the most successful ones because they have that drive to succeed and have that drive to learn and do well.”
“We also know that from research that’s been done in the past, that women excel in welding. It’s been studied, women tend to have greater dexterity than men do.”
“It’s based on a number of things … if you look at traditionally what women like to do, sewing, knitting, crochet, crafts are all of these kinds of things that a lot of females grew up doing. Welding really isn’t that much different.”