INDIANAPOLIS — Teaching welders how to join two metal parts together during training may appear to be the most essential part of welding, but confidence-building is the real key to making it through the trade.
Knowing metal properties is essential, yes, but Consuelo Lockhart will also tell you confidence is what will get you through the door and able to complete a job. Especially as a welder. But even more for a woman who welds.
"Forever, they've had people tell them, 'you're not able to weld;' 'it's a man's job;' 'you're not allowed to do that.' Culturally. Socially ... I'm like, this is a different time. You have every single right to build your own career and a name for yourself."
Lockhart has been helping women learn how to weld through her nonprofit the Latinas Welding Guild. The organization has helped spark new career opportunities for women in Indianapolis.
Lockhart founded the Latinas Welding Guild three years ago based on her own personal experience. While training for her welding certification in her home state of Michigan, she was the only woman in her class.
"When I first started getting into welding, I didn't really know anything about it, I didn't know anything about the industry, but then quickly discovered it was definitely a male-dominated field. And then over time, realized it was a very white male-dominated field," Lockhart explained.
Lockhart said being a woman was hard enough, but then adding the fact she's also Latina made things even more uncomfortable for her.
"I think some men didn't know how to interact with me," she said. "They didn't how to talk to me when I was going through class. All my classmates were basically watching and waiting for me to fail. I'm like, your paying way too much attention to me when you should be practicing your welds."
But confidence is what got her through then.
"I ended up kind of struggling through ... You know, the easy thing to do would be to quit. But I want to prove to myself that I can do it but also prove to other people that I didn't let any of you guys stop me from finishing the program," Lockhart said.
And that confidence is what's still getting her, and her students, through, till this day.
Lockhart says she feels as though others, men more often than not, think she is trying to take their jobs away from them, but that's not the case at all. She says, "I'm trying to find opportunities for these women. That's literally all I'm trying to do."
"I think, for the most part, throughout the entire journey, I've had to take moments of where I have to educate people about women being in the industry, legitimize myself, like why I'm doing the work that I'm doing, and why it's needed," Lockhart continued. The work that I'm doing isn't meant to threaten your business or your livelihood, I'm trying to make light of the barriers and issues and this is why women aren't in the industry."
According to Zippia, only 7.5% of welders in the U.S. are women. It's a huge gender gap in the field that Lockhart says is also lacking a good pipeline of new welders.
Que the Guild. The nonprofit focuses on providing affordable training in welding for lower-to-moderate income women who want to become financially independent. It's currently located on the near northeast side, inside the Ruckus Makerspace.
The group provides income-based scholarships for Latinas and other women of color who want to earn their welding certificate through her 10-week course. LWG also bridges many gaps where certain barriers have traditionally kept women from advancing. For example, a language barrier or child care help.
As an artist, Lockhart says the best part of welding is having little to no limitation when it comes to creating. That's something she wants these women to have the chance at experiencing.
"We focus on Latinas and minority women because, unfortunately, those groups have been marginalized the most," Lockhart said. Low income, unemployment, certain education levels, are all factors that the Guild can work with for workshop acceptance. "Can they speak any English, or is it all Spanish? That's not a problem either. I really try to work with everybody on a case-by-case basis, so ... then they can come to class and that money is not the reason they can't have a future."
Joining two metal parts together can be taught easier than it is to get the women to believe in themselves, Lockhart finds.
"When I see women before they start class," Lockhart says, "they are so timid, nervous; they're so unsure of themselves. And I'm like, 'you have to give it time. No one's just going to get it right off the bat.' And so, I see their journey and their progress, and then I start seeing confidence finally starting to build. Like they finally feel like they're worth something, which is like super sad, but also very powerful."
"You have every single right to build your own career and a name for yourself."
As a welding instructor, Lockhart not only focuses on teaching metal properties but also helps show them the building blocks for their end goal. If a job is what the women want, Lockhart introduces them to welding employers and helps with resume writing. If becoming an independent contractor is the goal, Lockhart shows them where to get supplies, where to get pieces powder-coated, how to make connections in the local welding industry, and more.
Every woman Lockhart and the Guild help break through the welding industry, only further helps the women who will come after them. By figuring out the problems of now, this prevents such occurrences from happening again in the future.
"We're going to continue establishing some relationships with employers so that they have a pipeline of potential hirees, but also, you know, some of these relationships, we don't want it to be just transactional," Lockhart explained of LWG's future. "We want them to also hear like there might be some concerns, like maybe the women aren't comfortable asking a certain question, or maybe there's an issue, unfortunately, on the job site. So, how do we help kind of keep the lines of communication open and help still advocate for those ladies that are working toward some of that? We want to establish that kind of relationship where we're keeping them accountable but we're also being held accountable too."
Funding for the scholarships is supported by community partners — such as Sun King Brewery and Warner Steel — and two other programs LWG offers. A community outreach social event open to the public and custom fabrication for other local nonprofits, art organizations, or schools. The latter occasionally gets their students in front of their community partners and schools, which then shows younger girls that they too can pursue a welding career.
"Depending on the group, maybe they have kids from the school come and see what they're doing and ... some kids will finally see someone that looks like them, and be like 'hey, I can do the same thing too.'"
Mayor Joe Hogsett wrote a proclamation for Latinas in Welding Week that was set in April of this year, and also declared the month of April as Women in Welding Month in Indianapolis.
Applications for the Latinas Welding Guild's 10-week workshop are accepted on a rolling basis online. Those interested in learning more about the group can visit their website weldingguild.com. The next session starts in June.
"There have been plenty of times where I'm like, 'I don't know why I'm doing this,'" Lockhart said of how hard it can be to lead women through the welding industry sometimes. But, the support of the community always pulls her through.
"It's the little things that really add up and really make me realize, yes, I'm doing the right thing. I have messages from random people in the community, or Latinos, that are like, 'hey, you are opening doors, you might not know it, but you are.' Randomly. And I'm like, that was super nice, and a nice surprise."