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Welding woman among the 2 percent to join profession

January 1, 2013

Megan O’Neill is in in the 2 percent.

The 19-year-old Central Wyoming College student from Kremmling, Colo., is among the growing number of women choosing welding as a profession; though it is estimated only 2 percent of this nation’s welders are women.

Megan graduates this spring with an Associates of Applied Sciences degree in welding and has plans to return to CWC in the fall to study business.

Megan’s interest in the trade began while participating in an ag mechanics judging contest as part of the Future Farmers of America program at her rural high school. “I like this,” she said to herself. “I want to do this.”

She began her search for a college and selected Central partly because there were women in the welding shop the day she made her first campus visit. This semester, Megan is the only female in the lab but it doesn’t bother her. “I feel really comfortable,” she said. That’s because O’Neill has the respect of her fellow students and instructors, said welding instructor Darryl Steeds.

To earn the associates degree, a welding student is required to take general education courses in addition to a welding curriculum that teaches a variety of skills to build a depth of understanding in the welding field.

Immediately Megan realized that “you can’t get good at something unless you practice.” Anytime she’s not in the classroom, she’s in the welding shop. Steeds said Megan spends 18 to 20 hours each week, more than double of what is required in her program, perfecting her abilities. “If I had 15 Megans, I’d be overwhelmed,” Steeds said, noting that Megan has been on the honor roll each semester.

While many of her fellow students are enrolled to learn skills to take to the energy industry, Megan is interested in starting her own welding business or working in a fabrication shop. “It’s something different,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Labor projects approximately a 15 percent increase in welding jobs by 2020, so for Megan it’s a no brainer. She’s entering a lucrative, high-demand field.

Steeds said women have the characteristics to make good welders, which include attention to detail, eye-hand coordination and patience. After all, he said, women were called to take on jobs during World War II and proved their abilities in many areas.

Megan’s parents and her ten siblings are very supportive of her career choice.