By Dave Flessner Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Chanda Maldonado sees welding as a valuable, in-demand skill that more young people, especially girls, should consider. To entice more women to pick up a welding torch, Maldonado's business, "Chambers Welding and Fabrication Corp." hosted a "Wine, Women and Welding" event.
Chanda Maldonado picks up a welding torch and lowers her face shield. Sparks fly as she melts the metal to help the iron basket she is creating take shape.
The task is both mechanical and artistic and has caught the fancy of Maldonado, a long-time human resources manager and entrepreneur who started her own welding firm just four years ago on the North Shore with veteran welder Brent Chambers.
After shaping rails, gates, industrial equipment and a host of other metal items for both residential and commercial users, Maldonado is eager to entice other women into welding -- for fun, art or a job.
While "Rosie the Riveter" popularized the role of women in welding and other manufacturing jobs during World War II, female welders and other factory workers barely comprise one of every four workers on the factory floor.
The U.S. Department of Labor said last year that women make up only 27 percent of manufacturing workers, the lowest percentage since 1971. However, since 2004, the number of women entering welding apprenticeship programs has increased by 35 percent.
Maldonado sees welding as a valuable, in-demand skill that more young people, especially girls, should consider.
To entice more women to pick up a welding torch, Maldonado's business, Chambers Welding and Fabrication Corp., at 409 Spears Ave., hosted a "Wine, Women and Welding" class where a handful of participants transform steel washers into works of art before enjoying a drink with their new-found friends.
"They not only did something "out of the box" for them, they also got to take it home with them," she said. "Our goal is to go into junior high and high school, perhaps with a summer program to introduce more students, especially girls, to get to see how active and interesting, as well as safe and rewarding, that this can be."
For those 21 and older, Maldonado offers two-hour classes for MIG welding skills on Friday evenings, Saturday mornings and Saturday afternoons for $65, plus $15 for materials.
'"We want to lure more women in to show how safe this is and to understand how much you can make," she said. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median pay in 2016 for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers was $18.94 an hour, or $39,390 a year for full-time workers. Over the next decade, the number of welding jobs is projected to grow by 6 percent, even as many existing welders retire. The average age of a welder today is 55, according to government figures, so welding is expected to have a labor shortage in the future as more baby boomers retire from the profession.
"Not everyone is going to want to work on computers or sit at a desk, but unfortunately not enough people are familiar with welding and think it is somehow unsafe or not a role for women," Maldonado said. "But once we are able to teach them some basic skills and let them try it out themselves, a lot of people find they really enjoy welding."
Maldonado already has made her mark on Chattanooga since moving here in 2013. She served on the board of green|spaces and now serves on the board of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce where she champions workforce preparedness for workers of all skill types.
"There are a lot of great jobs in welding and manufacturing and we need to encourage more hands-on STEM (science, technical, engineering and math) learning opportunities, especially for girls," she said.