“To the female who thinks she can’t, I promise you can.”

Interviews post authorEliza Bhalerao 11 April 2021

“To the female who thinks she can’t, I promise you can.”

Rachel Miller,
Welder, Gorbel®, Inc.

What made you choose welding as a career, which is a highly male dominated segment?

I had originally gone to college right after high school; got my bachelors in social work from Arizona State University and worked in social services for a few years before I was burnt out and looking for something new.  One day I was hanging out in the garage with my dad (an owner operator) and my brother (a diesel mechanic) watching them fix his Peterbilt.  They had the stick welder out and I wanted to give it a try so they gave me a rundown of the basics.  I laid a few beads and thought it was the coolest thing ever.  After getting a little taste of welding, I started researching the trade and job opportunities.  Turns out there was a growing demand so I enrolled in a 10 month welding program in 2014.

Could you brief us on your journey so far into welding?

After completing the welding program, my school helped place me at my first job where I built commercial compactors and dumpsters.  From there I went to work for an ornamental security door business for a short while, then to a shop that made staircases and handrails.  Currently, I am working with Gorbel®, a manufacturer of overhead material handling and fall protection.

Which welding process you specialize into?

I have about 5 years of work experience and the year of schooling before that.  Basically all of my career has consisted only of GMAW processes, which is funny because that was my least favorite welding process in trade school.  However, I’ve grown to enjoy it and appreciate the ease of it.

Could you please share your experience of some project you worked upon?

I wouldn’t really consider any of my past work as mega projects, but I was able to contribute to a big staircase job for a casino that was built down the street from my house.  So now whenever I drive by it I can say, “Hey, I welded the stairs in there!”

Your current project?

The projects I work on now are a variety of crane systems for other manufacturing facilities mostly.  The region where I live has seen a lot of economic growth in recent years so it’s cool that I get to build cranes for other workers to use, to build more stuff with.

When on site, what are the key points you follow during welding for any project? Any suggestions.

Obviously in this industry safety should always be the first key point to follow.  Wearing proper protective equipment will help deter accidents and injury.  When it comes to the skill and craft though, I think it’s always wise to double check measurements and parts before starting the job and question anything and everything that doesn’t seem right.  Sometimes mistakes are made on your behalf and sometimes the blueprints are wrong.  Either way, it’s no fun to have to cut apart a project after you finished welding it because you realized something was incorrect.  So save yourself a lot of time and heartache by paying attention to the small details.

Please share some of the interesting anecdotes during your career?

I think one of my favorite things about this welding journey is who I get to share it with.  I’ve met so many awesome tradespeople but the one I’m most appreciative of is my coworker, Letty Rodriguez.  Her and I went to the same trade school and were just one graduating class apart.  It wasn’t until a few years after school that we reconnected via social media.  At the time, it just so happened that the job I was at was hiring, and it just so happened that Letty was looking for a job.  She came in for an interview and was hired, so for a while we got to build stairs and rails together before I left to come to my current job.  As soon as Gorbel started hiring I encouraged her to apply and what do you know…Here we are three years later still working together!  It has become a mission of ours to open the eyes of other young ladies into a world of opportunities that most females are not exposed to or even aware of.  With the cooperation of our company, we have had multiple girls come shadow us at work for a day just so they can get a little glimpse into what it’s like to work in this field.  It is a really awesome feeling to be a small guiding light for other aspiring women welders, and to work for a company who supports our desire to do so.  Rewarding is an understatement.

What is your say on health and safety in welding? How do you consider the same when on job?

Again, safety should be of utmost importance in this line of work.  The demands are physically laborious so it’s only courteous to protect your body by wearing the correct fitting gear, staying hydrated in hotter temperatures, and stretching so you don’t pull a muscle or get sore from lifting heavy materials all day.  Another aspect of health that I think is overlooked way too often, especially in this industry, is mental health.  We’re all supposed to be rough and tough and nothing can bother us, but realistically it’s a part of the human experience to deal with constant stressors and stimuli that can ultimately affect our work performance.  If there is something that is weighing heavy on your mind, chances are it won’t go away just because you clocked in to work.  The mental distraction could potentially cause a lapse in judgement or lack of awareness that might lead to you hurting yourself or someone else.  Self care should be utilized as often as possible and if you’re fortunate enough to work for a company who covers counseling and therapy sessions, take advantage of that benefit.

 What kind of challenges do you come across and how do you manage to cope up with the same?

I think my challenges usually always stem from a lack of confidence in my abilities and/or fear of failing.  I stress myself out when I’m presented with a new project that I’ve never done before because I’m worried I will mess it up.  Deep down I know the only way to grow is to learn new things, but sometimes I get complacent and that makes it hard for me to step out of my comfort zone.  However, once it’s tackled I feel so much better and I realize it wasn’t even as difficult as I made it out to be in my mind.  The challenge is to change my frame of thought from stress and anxiety to a positive opportunity to gain new knowledge.

Have you anytime faced gender discrimination on site, as the stream is male dominated?

Of course, but not as much as one would think, which is a good sign that there is a shift happening in the way women are perceived in the trades.  I think the worst example was Letty and I’s previous foreman, long before we started working at Gorbel®, would make condescending remarks about us making him coffee, or standing over us to talk, or shaming us for being “too emotional” and other degrading puns and gestures.  I think what’s even more disturbing than his behavior was the fact that we presented multiple cases of harassment to HR (a male) and the owner of that company (also male) and they took all that information and swept it under the rug and said you will not speak of this again.  Unfortunately, I have heard other more frequent horror stories from other tradeswomen which is disappointing and shows that there is still work to do despite the majority of blue collar men being welcoming and accepting of us.  On the other hand I think it’s important to mention that it’s not just men who discriminate.  While applying for certain jobs I’ve encountered a few women working in the office who didn’t even give me a chance to hand over my resume before saying, “We’re only hiring for welders” as if assuming I was there to make coffee and take calls?  Just subtle socially constructed biases that are ingrained into most of us unintentionally.

What are your future plans?

It’s hard to say what the future holds.  The only plans I have are to try to be a better person than I was yesterday, professionally and personally.  There are so many facets to welding and I love the variety it offers so I like to keep my options open but for now I’m really satisfied with where I’m at and what I’m doing.

Closing message, especially to the female.

To the female, you have so much more potential than just being a paper pusher or producer of small humans.  To the female who thinks she can’t, I promise you can.  To the female who is too intimidated to try, do it anyway.  To the female who is reinventing herself, it’s never too late.  To the female who is growing into her prowess, own it.  To the female who is at the top, send the elevator back down.  To the female, do whatever the hell makes you happy.

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