FEBRUARY 3, 1997
Welding trainee Edie Lysen learns the ropes at a welding class at Lake Washington Technial College.
Photo by Deborah Stone/Northwest News.
by Deborah Stone
Behind that welding hood and blue arc, wearing leather gloves and steel-toed boots, you might be surprised to find a woman.
Today, more women are choosing non-traditional fields such as welding to achieve the satisfaction of a financially rewarding career. They are attracted to the better-than-average salaries in the industry and are seeking the necessary training for employment.
Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland has one such program that offers the skills and knowledge of welding needed to pass industry certification exams at graduation. The program involves three quarters of classes where students learn the profession using a variety of gases on metals such as titanium and stainless steel. Since its inception in 1973, the program has been dominated by male students, but within the past few years, women have begun to enroll in the courses. There are currently two women working towards certificate completion.
Gretchen Stevenson of Bothell and Edie Lysen of Monroe will graduate in June and September, respectively. Each is a single mother who realized that supporting a family on the seven-to-eight-dollars-an-hour wages they received from the more traditional careers for women without a college education was extremely difficult. They wanted to learn a more valued profession with higher financial compensation.
Why choose welding in particular? As a young girl, Gretchen was intrigued by her father's hobby of welding chunks of metal into wonderful creations out in the garage. "I find welding to be artistic and so creative, plus there's a wonderful freedom that comes with it," Stevenson said.
A retail employee for many years, the most she's ever made was $8.25 an hour. She looks forward to being able to save some money and have a safety net for her and her son.
Lysen, a former pyrotechnician, truck driver, and exotic dancer, loves the power that welding gives her. She says, "It's amazing! It's like working with lightning." She first became attracted to the occupation in high school when she had the opportunity to try it. Her goal is to work for a company with good benefits, enabling her to get off of welfare and gain financial security for her and her four children.
Both women have found the college's program to be of excellent quality and speak highly of their instructor, Ben Hummel, a journeyman welder with thirty years of industry experience. Classes meet Monday through Friday mornings, and homework often entails practice in reading blueprints and equating scale.
Lysen and Stevenson say they feel like "one of the guys" and enjoy the supportive and encouraging atmosphere in the program. Their advice to other women who wish to pursue the field is simple. "Come see what it's all about. Look and touch the equipment around the shop and get a taste of it," says Stevenson. With the demand for welders on the increase, these women's futures look rosy.
For more information about the welding program or other programs at Lake Washington Technical College, call 828-5600.