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On paper, the skills required to be a welder include manual dexterity, good eyesight, hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, and patience. As two women working in this traditionally male trade, Sue Dow (PWEP ‘06) and Jodell Clingo (ASMP ’10, AWEP ’16) strongly recommend stamina, a sense of humour and — at least for women — big girl panties.
The two met for the first time last November when they were paired up for Women in Trades and Technologies’ 100-Member Mentorship Project at SAIT. The initiative takes students enrolled in a program that is non-traditional from a gender perspective and connects them with individuals experienced in their industry. This particular pairing of mentor and mentee is itself pretty non-conventional.
With 12 years’ experience as a sheet metal worker in a fabrication shop, Clingo returned to SAIT and earned her second journeyman ticket. She is the mentee. Dow, her mentor, has been working as a welder in the petroleum industry for 10 years, but has 19 years’ life experience on Clingo.
“When we first sat down, neither one of us really knew what to expect,” says Dow. “We just started talking.”
“We actually have a lot in common,” says Clingo.
Their shared experiences within a male-dominated workplace quickly animated the conversation, with familiar nods and laugh-out-loud affirmations. The challenges of integrating within the culture, navigating the politics and personalities, and securing respect from their co-workers were real, but both women agree that strength of character has more to do with success than a person’s gender.
“It’s not about gender,” says Clingo. “The people that can push through are the ones that will survive in this environment. It’s not personal.”
Expectations are the same for everyone on the job. Long hours of standing. On-the-spot problem solving. People breathing down your neck, pushing to get the work done. They need it now. Actually, they needed it three hours ago.
“It comes down to, do you have the stamina?” says Dow. “For me it’s fun, it really is.”
These girls do know how to have fun. While revelling in the memory of some of their more remarkable gaffes as freshly minted journeymen, Clingo and Dow conceived an idea that’s bringing them together once a week now.
“We’ve got a project cooking,” says Dow. “But it’s too soon to talk about it.”
“All I can say is that this mentorship program is going to bring something great for more than just two people,” says Clingo.
Never having done anything like this before, lesser characters might be intimidated. “Yeah,” says Clingo. “But we’re welders. We can do anything.”
Text by Julie Sengl | Photo by Greg Fulmes