Photo by Hillary Ehlen
By Laura Caroon and Danyel Moe
Trail King Industries
Although there are few women in her field currently, Yvette Reyes, a welder at Trail King Industries, encourages them to try their hand at the well-paying and in-demand trade.
In a brief summary, what do you do?
Put very badly, I glue pieces of metal together and occasionally start myself on fire. For over four years now I have been welding in a production shop that manufactures industrial trailers. I am responsible for assembling and welding different parts of trailers, whether that be the frame, axles for the suspension, or small parts. This is all between the hours of 4:25 p.m. to 2:55 a.m., sometimes more. During the daytime, I own and operate a small alternative fitness studio downtown, FM Aerial & Movement Arts.
How/why did you get into welding?
Originally, I was set to start college at Mount Holyoke, the first women’s college in the USA, after graduating high school. Once I realized the harsh reality that I was incapable of affording the tuition even after all the grants and scholarships, I switched gears and enrolled in a one-year welding certification program at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, MN. My mindset changed in that I would rather be safe, with a certification that would certainly guarantee me a well-paying job that is in demand, than in years’ worth of debt. It turned out quite well; I secured a job within days of graduating.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
My favorite part of being a welder is the freedom and learning experiences that come with the job. Although it is hard work, it is satisfying to know that you are capable of learning new things and working in rough environments. It teaches you that even though you are scared and don’t think you can accomplish whatever it is in front of you, there is a way and a process to push through and it only gets better with time and practice. As a welder, you are constantly in motion preparing parts and doing the actual welding. It is time-consuming, so a ten-hour shift tends to fly by. The work can be demanding, but at the end of the day, you know you are able to pay your bills on time and have food on your plate so you can start to focus on other activities, like cultivating hobbies and friendships… or taking on a business.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
It is easy to tell that few women work as welders. This is seen in the limited amount of gear that actually fits. Even the smallest leather gloves are so big that I need to shrink them by touching hot metal to get them to fit a little better. Also, everything is tall and heavy, and I am small. It takes a lot more effort for me to clamp parts together, rig things up with chains, or even reach the places that I need to weld. And of course, the male ego. I’ve noticed that some, not all, male welders have this idea that they know best and sometimes don’t trust what I have to say or in my ability because I am a woman.
Are there any changes you would like to see made to your industry?
More women welders please! The more women who weld, the less it is seen as out of place. Women are capable of working with their hands and learning skilled trades. This idea of “a man’s job” is sorely outdated, but it will never change if women do not see the value of pursuing work that’s traditionally seen as male-centered.
What is the best career advice you’ve received or have to offer?
The best career advice I can relay is: take care of yourself. Set yourself up for success and for the future. If a college degree is going to land you in decades worth of debt, is it really worth your mental health? There are always options, and even if those options seem second-tier, they may end up being the perfect place to grow.
Who is your hero and why?
My mom is my hero. Being an immigrant and single mom of two, I saw my mom struggle endlessly. But no matter the circumstances, she always remained positive and looked for the best in every situation. She is like a firecracker: feisty, energetic, and small. She is the strongest woman I know, and I aspire to be like her.
What advice do you have for women interested in welding?
Unless you have been helping your parents at the shop for years and already know how to put things together and weld, go through a reputable program. There are less expensive certifications that can be completed in weeks or a few months, but these will not prepare you anywhere near where you will want to be at with your muscle memory and confidence. NDSCS has a program where you can complete an associate’s degree and welding certification simultaneously, so if you choose to go back to school you will not have to start from the very beginning. Being a welder is not easy; the job is often heavy and uncomfortable, and downright miserable in the summertime. However, if you want to obtain a skilled trade that is always in demand, have the option to make and save money, and live comfortably while trying to figure out your next steps in life, I highly recommend becoming a welder.
How can women in male-dominated fields support each other?
Camaraderie. Get to know each other. Chances are that there are only a handful, if any, women working in this environment, and if you work evening shift it can be especially challenging to meet other people. How welcomed you feel in your surroundings makes an impact, and being that we spend most of our waking hours at work, it makes life easier knowing there is a friendly face that knows exactly what you are going through.
Do you have any stress-management practices?
Welders are known for being a bit violent when frustrated. Flying tools and parts are not uncommon, however a much more positive way to relieve stress is to practice breathing deeply.
Bring back the focus to yourself and how it is only one moment that will pass. I also like to build positive relationships and hobbies outside of work, so if I am ever stressed out, I know that there are people and places that I will always feel at ease with.
What books would you recommend Ladybosses read?
“The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence” by Josh Waitzkin was a good reminder to appreciate and cherish the process towards any long-term goal.
“So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love” by Cal Newport really resonates with me in that the core message is to put in valuable time and work towards skills that will help you in the future rather than plunging into a passion you may not be prepared to sustain.
“The 5 Essential People Skills, How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts” by Dale Carnegie. Learning and strengthening interpersonal skills is a lifelong pursuit that will help you build healthy relationships for entrepreneurial endeavors or for just simply being a better person.