Gina Mortimer first learned to weld when she was 17.
She grew up in Miami and had a large group of male friends who were all welders and provided her early lessons.
“They taught me how to help repair and build airboat cages,” Mortimer said. “And that was it. So, I thought, ‘Oh well, I like doing this and this is fun.’”
She had decided to get a welding certificate, but in 1992 Hurricane Andrew destroyed her family’s home and led them to relocate to Destin. Mortimer began bartending and made a career in the restaurant industry. Nearly 30 years passed before she returned to the idea of welding as a career.
Of all the American workers classified as welding, soldering, and brazing workers, only about 5% are women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But, there are efforts to bring more women into the male-dominated field.
Two free workshops will be held in Dothan and Eufaula to introduce women to welding as a career. Wallace Community College Workforce Development, The Wiregrass Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D) and Lincoln Electric have collaborated to create the Women in Welding workshops for females ages 16 and up. Wiregrass RC&D funded the grant for the workshops.
Along with some classroom safety training, women attending one of the workshops will use the Wallace welding simulators and even get some hands-on welding experience. The idea is to help them determine if welding is for them before they make a financial commitment to a certification program.
The two-day workshop will be held at Wallace Community College in Dothan on Jan. 23 and Jan. 30 and at the college’s Sparks campus in Eufaula on Feb. 6 and Feb. 13. Each workshop is limited to 20 participants. To register, contact Kecia Forehand at email@example.com or call 334-556-2219.
Joe Johnson, director of Workforce Development at Wallace Community College, said the workshops are intended to empower women to see the earning potential in the local welding industry where hourly wages can range from $15 to $25 or more depending on the job and skills required. Johnson worked as a welder before becoming a welding instructor at Wallace.
“Now over workforce development, I understand the huge need for welders in our area, obviously,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do is increase and promote welding opportunities in our region to females.”
Johnson said the workshops are an opportunity for dual enrollment high school students who aren’t sure if welding is right for them. But, he said, because the workshops are free and Wallace provides all supplies, it’s also an opportunity for women who are underemployed or were left unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic to consider a non-traditional career without any cost.
Wallace offers short certification that focuses on welding skills needed in the Wiregrass and a longer program that teaches advanced welding skills. Many short certificate students return for the advanced program, Johnson said.
“There are so many jobs in welding between the different businesses,” Johnson said. “We joke with our students and we say it’s not if there are jobs available; it’s really can you do what they want you to do?”
For Mortimer, the journey back to welding was a long one. For the last 10 years, Mortimer has homeschooled her two sons, but she saw how the pandemic turned the restaurant and bar industry upside down. During a homeschool field trip last year, Mortimer and her 12-year-old son visited the Wallace Community College welding simulation lab. She could hardly contain her excitement as she shared her past experience with her son.
Mortimer, who turns 46 next month, started classes for her short certificate in welding this week at Wallace Community College in Dothan. If all goes well, she’ll be finished in the fall and ready to join the local workforce. She’s pretty sure she’s the oldest in her class and is one of three women.
Her husband and sons are supportive, and her sons are proud of her – even making her pose for a first-day-of-school photo, she said.
Mortimer plans to pursue local welding jobs whether for a fabrication company or the restaurant industry or local farmers who need a repair on a piece of equipment. She’s even read up on sanitary welding such as welding done for dairies or breweries.
“There are so many opportunities here for welders,” she said.
Katelynn Dean is enrolled in the dual enrollment welding course offered at GTech in Geneva.
“I absolutely love welding and love talking to people about it,” Dean said in a press release from Wallace Community College. “Initially, people would try to put me down about being a girl in welding but I have earned their respect over time. I feel like women in welding are empowered in this profession by being able to prove to others that a woman is capable of training for this career.”