As part of International Women’s Day 2022, Hagerty is giving a platform to women driving change. Catch the other stories in this series and read about the lecturer podcasting from her Morris Minor, Bugatti museum curator interesting kids in cars, and one of Britain’s most influential motorcycle racers.
“I’m all about equal opportunities. I’ll big anyone up if they’re doing good, regardless of their gender, but women need a bigger platform to be comfortable enough to say they’re proud of what they’re doing. It’s dead old-fashioned and outdated when men say girls can’t do certain jobs.
I was the first female to train as an apprentice welder at Stoke-on-Trent College and was awarded STEM Apprentice of the Year in 2019 but despite being lucky with the recognition I’ve had, and the opportunities that have come my way, I’ve gone through a lot. In the past I’ve had to deal with gender stereotypes in the workplace, but I continue to receive online abuse so I really want to make it a smoother path for other girls. It’s hard to get into somebody else’s head and change the way they think, but we’ve got to get people to stop hating on others. I never had a role model and I want girls to see me and think: ‘If she can do it, I can do it’.
A typical day for me starts at 6am and I finish at half two but I regularly stay on for longer. I come to work already dressed in my overalls but the first thing I do is get myself ready; I get my mask and make sure it’s clean, wrap my hair round in a bun and put my bandana and gloves on. Next, I set up my workspace.
The two main types of welding processes that I use are MIG and TIG. MIG is usually the first one people learn because everything you need to join materials together (including gas, the electrode and the wire) comes out of one gun. It’s great for heavy duty jobs. I prefer TIG welding because it’s a lot more technical and you can create some really intricate artwork. Both processes rely on timing and doing things in the right sequence.
The science behind it is so interesting and if you don’t know it, you can’t control the outcome. It’s like the butterfly effect, if you change one setting on the gun such as the gas, or add a few more amps of power, the end product changes. When you learn about the properties of materials like titanium and stainless steel and what happens when you manipulate them with heat, it blows your mind. A big part of learning is making mistakes and fixing them yourself but mistakes in this job could be fatal, for example if I’m welding something for a lorry, so the finished item has to be right 100 per cent of the time. My main focus at the moment is getting my container conversion finished; it’s going to be my own little workspace where I can do my own thing.
Being a welder is a physical job; I’m always on my feet and there’s always stuff to do. It’s a strain on your body and your brain, but the heat is what affects me the most. Over time you get stronger but I’ve seen 5ft girls that are absolute rockets being told they can’t lift certain things because they’re small and perceived to be weak – that’s the biggest preconception I’m faced with. If I need help, I’ll ask; no one is that good that they’ll never need help, but give me a chance to give it a go.
When I first went into a weld area I was warned about arc eye but it was about a week later that I found out what it was. I woke up in the night and it felt like I’d got grit in my eyes, I couldn’t see anything, it was awful; the UV rays a welder gives off will literally burn your eyes if you don’t wear the right protective kit. That’s why I’m so passionate about training other welders, even mentoring and training Apprentices in the safest way to do things at work.
I wouldn’t say there’s a certain path you need to follow to become a welder because everyone is different, but apprenticeships are a good way forward because you learn a bit of everything and at the end of it you have the choice to do whatever takes your fancy – it might even be something that you never thought about doing. The first step is to get in touch with any of your local training providers and colleges but the important thing is to keep trying; eventually you’ll crack it. I haven’t got a laid out plan in my head because plans have never worked for me.
I’ll never shy away from what I was like when I was younger, I was a naughty teenager but I’ve turned it around. I learnt that the people you sit with at school, you don’t have to be sitting with in five years, so my advice is to really think about what you’re doing; get some good work experience and try not to make bad choices. Before becoming a welder I was a hairdresser, a carer in the community and for my nanna, and I worked at Alton Towers. I had to prove myself on the course because I didn’t have a background in engineering, I even had a letter sent to my house saying they didn’t know I was capable, so I had to do extra lessons, but here I am, I’m a welder.
I want to see more girls being trained up for STEM roles and getting involved in the engineering industry, especially welding. BBC bitesize asked me to be a panellist on their 2021 school tour to talk to students about innovation. It was such a good feeling when a little girl put her hand up and said “I want to be a welder when I grow up”. Life isn’t all about money, I want to create a legacy, so in my spare time I’m making some stuff out of scrap metal, including a dandelion and some lasered animals, to donate to a local hospital so patients have got something to look at when they’re receiving treatment.
Reading a welding bible at home on a Friday night is my idea of fun, but I go to bed quite early because I have to get up at about half four. I work every Saturday but give myself Sunday off – that’s when I’ll sleep and do my food shop – but when my container is ready I can see myself having a bed in there and staying over. I’m a welder for life. I love it.”