Meet a domestic abuse survivor who built a new life for her family by picking up a welding torch. She’s not alone – women are increasingly stepping into “nontraditional” industries as many jobs go unfilled. Here’s her story, and that of other women involved in the trades, in their own words:
Guadalupe Hinojosa, Welder at Trendler, Inc.
I get up at 4:30 in the morning to get my children ready to take them to my sister’s and by the time I start here depending on if we have overtime will be six or seven in the morning.
And with me whenever I put the gear on I just feel like myself, I feel good because I could hide behind the hood, whatever I’m thinking behind my mind, I don’t have – it’s not out there. It’s like my own little world. I love it.
I went through a domestic violence situation with my ex. The first step for me was to get out of the house. Take my kids and never looked back, and I haven’t.
I ended up in a domestic violence shelter, I was struggling, I was dependent on public aid and I wanted to get off of it. I looked at my kids and I thought about their circumstances. They didn’t ask to be born but I owe them a living.
I actually started at Chicago Women in Trades. I went to the public aid office, and when I went over there they had a flier, and I gave ‘e, a call that same day, and they had an opening so I went and checked it out and I started off.
Scarlet Burmeister, Welding Instructor at Chicago Women in Trades
I have mothers and daughters and sisters and friends and the one thing they have in common is they want to make things, they want to create things, and they want to produce things, they want to go to work.
It’s filthy and hard work, but for the people who have the drive for it it really is satisfying.
I had five brothers. So I’m not like the type of girl that grew up in nail polish and Barbie dolls, I grew up playing cars and wrestling. So this suited my um, my ambitions, it just fit me perfectly.
Right now in the Chicago area there are 10 welding jobs available for each welding job seeker. And so blue collar industries have been vacated by the people who traditionally held them. That’s white men, which leaves a great opportunity for women and other minorities to come in and grab these excellent opportunities.
Linda Hannah, Chicago Women in Trades
In the country, three percent of the employees in the skilled trades are women; and it’s not impossible for women to be a contractor, electrician, plumber, pipe-fitter.
You get paid well, but you’re guaranteed that you’re going to each year increase your earnings, you’re going to have pensions and some of the best benefits that you can get. So it allows a women to have a house, and to take care of her family if you have a family. But also, it’s satisfying – you get to drive around the city and say, “I built that, I was a part of that crew.”
The jobs are out there, and the work is certainly doable by women.
I mean we’re capable just as a man is, we’re able to do all these things; it’s awesome, I like it, it makes me feel like I’ve done more when I get home.
But I stop and I consider the women that’re still struggling and going through these problems even now. I want to be able to show them that they have a voice and that they have the will to actually get out of it, they don’t have to struggle or at times die for it.
You know there’s a saying that goes what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I am a heavy believer in that as long as you learn through your experience, you get stronger with it.
Note: These interviews were edited for content.