While millions across the country struggle to find a job, a small but growing number of women are turning to manufacturing and welding jobs for a paycheck.
"I get a lot of questions like, 'Why would you want to weld?’" said Anna Wild, a welder at the Wyoming Machine Company in Stacy, Minnesota. "The way that they ask me it’s like why would you want to do that.”
For Anna and millions of women in manufacturing, the idea of putting on a welding mask or forging steel is a no brainer. These are high paying jobs requiring a skill that is in demand.
Still Fighting Sexism in the Plant
Right now, 27 percent of the 11.96 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. are held by women. That's a slight decline from a few years ago when the recession (What's This? Find Out Here) hit.
Historically, the percentage of woman in manufacturing has been between 25 percent and 35 percent.
While attitudes on shop floors have improved dramatically over the last 30 years, it's still an adjustment for some men to deal with a woman in manufacturing. Just ask Traci Tapani, the co-president and owner of Wyoming Machine.
"I have had situations where even sales people who are selling me the equipment don’t want to talk to me about equipment because they don’t believe that I can talk to them about the mechanics of that machine," Tapani said. "But I actually am the main person here that specs out the equipment and makes decisions to purchase it, so I know more about it than anybody else in the company."
Tapani and her sister Lori left jobs in corporate America to buy Wyoming Machine from their father in the early 1990s. The firm specializes in metal fabrication for a slew of companies including Fortune 500 firms.
Over time, they have started to see more acceptance of women in manufacturing plants.
"As we expanded, our customers are also manufacturers, and several of the companies we do business with have had women in their purchasing role for a long time," said Lori Tapani. "So it has been a gradual change."
Targeting Young Girls for Manufacturing
With high-skilled manufacturing job openings go unfilled due a lack of applicants, the manufacturing industry is expanding efforts top attract women. Camps have started to give boys and girls exposure to manufacturing.
In West Bend, Wisconsin, the week long "Toolin' It Camp" at Morraine Park Technical College offers kids a chance to actually weld.
Thirteen-year-old Jamie Taylor loved flipping down the helmet and making the sparks fly.
"I think it is really fun,” she said. “It is a cool experience."
"It’s pretty cool seeing it go from a bunch of little pieces to this," said 14 year old Amanda Plachinski as she held up a miniature motorcycle she had welded together. "It’s definitely different than anything I have been to. I was at camp last week through my church, but then I came here and I was like, OK, this is different."
It's different, and changing how many girls see manufacturing.