Robin Butts has a 5-year-old daughter to raise. Fortunately, she has the help of the girl’s father, works for a cooperative employer and has a plan to help her meet the challenges young families face in today’s economy.
Her plan involves furthering a career in manufacturing.
Butts, 25, of Augusta, works on the manufacturing floor at Global Finishing Solutions (GFS) in Osseo, and realizes she’s pursuing a career in a male-dominated field. She also realizes there’s more money to be made in manufacturing than in some traditional female-dominated fields.
Plenty of manufacturing jobs go unfilled because of the lack of trained workers. Pay for such jobs is rising and opportunities abound, including opportunities for women who have the training.
Chrystal Reidt realized that years ago. She went through the Welding program at Chippewa Valley Technical College, where graduates today earn on average $16.21 an hour to start. Reidt’s training led her to a career that included three years at PDM Bridge and four years at McDonough Manufacturing, both in Eau Claire.
“I never worked with another woman,” said Reidt, who today is a Welding instructor at CVTC.
That’s a reflection of women being slow to pursue careers in manufacturing jobs.
“It’s not really put out there for them, so they don’t consider it as an option,” said Reidt. “An effort should be made to encourage them. They don’t know what’s out there.”
Butts has proven her worth at GFS. She works in an area that makes lighting equipment. “There’re a lot of women in the office and in the area where I work there are five women, but in the rest of the plant I don’t think there are any on the manufacturing floor,” she said.
In her area, Butts became a go-to person. When some equipment broke down, she could get it going again. However, she didn’t have any formal training or degree, so to open the possibility of advancement, she sought more training.
Butts is enrolled in the Electromechnical Technology program at CVTC, and is working reduced hours while going to school. The company is helping pay for her education.
“I’m very thankful to my supervisors at Global for allowing me to go back to school and for being so understanding,” she said.
Electromechanical Technology graduates from CVTC make an average starting wage of over $20 an hour, according to a survey of 2010-11 graduates.
Butts says she likes being active all day, even if the work is more strenuous than a desk job.
Jennifer Sorenson, 24, of Eau Claire looked into other fields, but decided they weren’t for her. She developed an interest in welding, following in the footsteps of her father.
“It kind of excites me,” the first-semester Welding student at CVTC said about going into a male-dominated field. “There are very few women in the welding industry.”
Sorenson enjoys the work.
“I like the hands-on work, finishing something and being able to show something physical from your work,” she said.
Sorenson is considering completing CVTC’s new two-year welding program, which would send her to the workforce with a higher level of skill. She’s looking into work in a pipeline field, or perhaps in aluminum welding. There are plenty of opportunities.
“You pretty much have a job waiting when you walk out the door,” she said.
Charlene Montanye, 24, of Menomonie, recalls seeing all the want ads for welders when she was a little girl. Now she’s in her third semester in CVTC’s Welding program.
“I was never a girly-girl. I liked to hang out with the boys,” Montanye said.
She got her start in welding a couple of years ago when the family was building a wheelchair ramp for her grandmother. Her dad had her weld a couple of pieces together. Now the young men in her class sometimes look to her for help.
“I can help them out with things, and that makes a world of difference to me,” she said. “I don’t rub it in to them, but I feel that little bit of a sense of accomplishment. Every woman wants to show up the men, in one way or another.”
Montanye has her eye on a job at Thomas and Betts Corporation (Meyer Industries) in Hager City, which has a great demand for welders to manufacture those huge metal poles for power lines.
“I think it would be cool to drive by one of those and say, ‘I built that,’” Montanye said. “But my ultimate goal is to open my own welding shop.”
These future manufacturing workers aren’t letting the image of traditional gender roles limit them, and aren’t listening to the “that’s a man’s job” attitude.
“You can’t let anybody hold you back,” said Montanye.
But it will also take encouragement to get more women to choose higher paying manufacturing jobs.
“A lot of this has to do with the high school level,” said Reidt. “High schools tend to push university education. They could do more exploratory things with workshops for girls.”