Q&A: Opening doors for women through welding

March 2, 2018

consuelo-polandConsuelo Poland, 29, oversees the Ruckus makerspace at the Circle City Industrial Complex on the near-east side. But she recently has taken on another role as well—launching a not-for-profit, the Latinas Welding Guild, to teach women how to weld.

What made you start the guild?

I went to art school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Kendall College of Art and Design. I did one welding project when I was there and I really enjoyed that. But I noticed that there weren’t a lot of women in the industry. I was adopted from Guatemala, so I’ve always wanted to figure out some way to help Latinas and women. Welding, to me, seemed like a really good way.

So, you know how to weld?

Yes, I like welding big-scale projects. I use welding for functional pieces. I really like outdoor furniture, so that’s where I want to go.

How many women are in the class and how long does it last?

We just finished our first class. I was the only one who knew how to weld and the other five had never done it before. We just started our second class, which was another six women. And it’s a mixture of women; it’s not all Latinas.

Six is the most you can take?

It just makes sense. We’re trying to get them more hands-on experience.

What types of jobs will class participants be qualified for?

Some of them want to go into manufacturing or maybe a fabrication job. It’s an intro welding class, but it’s enough where they can set up the machines themselves. If they wanted to do a welding test to get certified, then they could do that.

How big of a demand is there for welders, especially for women and minorities?

There has always been a demand for welders. There are very, very few women who do it. All of these welders who have been doing it, for 15 to 30 years, are retiring. There’s no real appeal for people to go into the industry. Even though I might not be pushing the women to go into the industry, I just think that it’s learning the skill, which is the most important part.

How much does the class cost?

For the first class, I got enough sponsorship where they went through the class for free. We’re focusing on low-to-moderate income. Those who can afford to pay some fees, we’re asking them to, so at least they’re invested in it. This class has three or four mothers, and one woman in the class has seven kids. So, I’m trying to make it as cost-friendly as possible.

What is the hardest part about welding?

Having gas and heat and sparks—that might be a little scary for some of them. But once they get one spark on them, and they know how it feels, they’re fine. It doesn’t matter how much you cover up your skin, you’re going to get a spark. It just comes with the territory.

How does the welding class fit into the Ruckus mission?

For Ruckus, we’re trying to help those who can’t help themselves. So, with the guild, it’s the same thing. … I’m just trying to open as many doors and opportunities for them as possible.

What do you hope to achieve with the class?

My end goal is to open an all-women’s welding school, hopefully here. My ultimate dream is to open an all-women’s welding school in Guatemala. But I also got offered a part-time teaching gig at Ivy Tech [Community College], and that’s a certification class. I’m hoping to get enough experience to get certified as a welding educator.

—Scott Olson

(IBJ photo/Eric Learned)


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