When Dulce Benavides took her first welding class at San Bernardino Valley College, she was afraid because she was the only female in the class. But her father, a welder himself, had prepared her with the basics and, more importantly, gave her words to remember that she carries with her every day. In Spanish, he told her, “No, I don’t know how to do it, but if you show me, I will learn.”
Welding was not Benavides’ first choice after high school. She wanted to study mortuary science in another state, but health concerns kept her closer to home and looking for a different field of study. She decided to enroll at SBVC for general education classes and tried a welding class because of her father. Out of 20 students, she was the only woman and the men did not expect her to continue.
“After the third week, they were like, ‘You’re still here. What are you doing here?’”, recalled Benavides. By the end of the class, around 10 male students had dropped out and Benavides completed the course.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than five percent of the nation’s welders are women. It’s a field that requires a skilled-labor workforce and provides a good middle-class income. A starting apprentice with no experience can earn $24 an hour and good benefits.
“Women don’t go into welding because they’re scared,” said Benavides. “When you think about welding, you see all these sparks and pretty much men doing it. I think it discourages women because when you look at it, it looks like a man’s field.” She also cites getting burned by the sparks as another a reason men and women may drop from the welding program.
Read the rest of the story at caeconomy.org.