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2015 March 16 - 11:34 pm

More Young Women Pursuing Non-Traditional Occupations

Welding, Auto Body Repair Among Fields Attracting Females


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — When 17-year-old Jennifer Nesmeyer tells people she wants to be a welder, they often don’t believe her.

“They think they misheard me,” she said. “They’re so surprised.”

Even Kenny Thomas, the welding instructor at Nichols Career Center, didn’t take her seriously at first, the Jefferson City News Tribune (http://bit.ly/1z93huR ) reports.

“I was one of them,” he said. However, Nesmeyer’s good grades and attendance got her into the program. Now, she’s one of Thomas’ top students and one of two young women in Nichols’ welding program. She’s also a paid intern at Midwest Welding, honing her skills four hours a day, often fabricating aluminum railings.

“Nichols Career Center is the most exciting part of my day,” she said.

Although she was not exactly hazed by the young men who take the class with her, not all of them thought she was going to be as good as them and a few “criticized her a little bit,” her teacher said.

However, Thomas noted she quickly shut that down — not by bragging on her work, but by quietly putting it on the bench for everyone’s inspection. Soon the other students were oozing and aching over her precise joints — no cold-lapping, no under-cutting and very smooth.

“I feel proud whenever a guy is talking smack, and I can show him the welds, and mine’s better,” she said.

Nesmeyer’s plan is to build her skills even more at the Missouri Welding Institution in Nevada and then find jobs that will allow her to travel.

Currently, three young women are taking welding classes at Nichols. Although it’s still uncommon, enrollment has increased slightly, said Travois Plume, counselor at the center.

“This, however, is anecdotal,” Plume said. “I do know that we make efforts to continually recruit nontraditional students. Kenny (Thomas) probably does this better than any other instructor here.”

Students from all over the region attend Nichols, and the program is selective. Students from Jefferson City High School who want to attend have to apply and interview. It takes good grades, good behavior and good attendance to get in.

Recently, the welding program had 30 hopeful applicants for only eight open slots.

“We will turn away, every year, qualified applicants,” Plume said. “It really is a shame. But it’s a matter of space and facilities. We need more resources.”

Graduates have the potential to earn good incomes.

According to the State Technical College of Missouri website, the mean annual 2013 salary for welders was almost $36,000.

Workers in the Automotive Collision Technology field earned even more in 2013, when the mean annual salary was $42,540.

Anita Cornell, a 16-year-old high school junior, is the only female taking Nichols’ auto-collision course. She comes from a family of car enthusiasts. Her dad does auto-body work, her grandfather owns a salvage yard and her uncle teaches automotive repair.

“My whole family works on cars,’’ she said. So it’s natural that Cornell loves cars, too. “They’re cool,” she said.

However, it wasn’t a given she would follow in their footsteps.

“My grandfather felt girls shouldn’t work in the field, so I wanted to prove him wrong,” she said.

And she has. “In the past, he wouldn’t let me go to the (salvage) yard and pull parts. But since I joined this class, he’s been a lot more helpful,’’ she said. “And he wants to teach me things.”

Cornell plan is to attend STY to learn more about auto body repair. “I want to work in a shop until I can save and open my own,” she said. “I love working with my hands.”

Just like in Nichols’ welding program, there’s a shortage of slots in auto collision.

Instructor Dennis Bruemmer said he typically has 30-40 students interested in applying for nine open spots.

“It’s competitive,” Bruemmer said. “There’s a limit of space and resources.”

Both instructors said the most important attribute is a willingness to be there. Since the courses are three hours long, when students miss a day of school, they miss quite a lot of class time, too.

Bruemmer’s class covers hazardous materials, personal safety, tool and panel identification, trim and hardware, mig welding, adhesively-bonded panel replacement and nonstructural repair.

Bruemmer said it’s not unusual to see workers earning $50,000 to$60,000 a year.

He typically has one or two girls take his class every year.

“They’re actually very good at it, because they pay better attention to detail,” he said. “I think they are just as capable.”

Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, http://www.newstribune.com

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