Welding is women’s work, too

By George Berkheimer

Mention the word welder and the image of a young woman fresh out of high school isn’t an image that’s likely to spring to mind.

Take a look at the fabrication and machining shop at Mission Critical Solutions in Alum Bank, though, and that’s just what you’ll find.

Hazel Chamberlain graduated from Everett High School last year and interviewed with MCS after discussing her interests with the Bedford County Development Association.

“I did a welding test and they said they’d be happy to have me right away,” she said.

Chamberlain’s interest in welding developed close to home.

“My uncle made an eagle out of metal for the Bedford County Fair one year and took first place with the submission, and that impressed me,” she said. “I do like the more artistic side of welding, but it’s a good job.”

She began studying welding at the Bedford County Technical Center during her sophomore year in high school and enjoyed it.

Rik Roman, director of manufacturing for the specialty fabrication business, said Chamberlain may not look like the company’s other welders, but her performance is more important.

“We prioritize character in our hiring process, and when I interviewed Hazel, she impressed us,” he said. “She’s very talented when it comes to welding. When I saw her family values, her value of what life is all about and what she wants to grow into, that’s exactly what we were looking for.”

Nontraditional Role

Her decision certainly raised a few eyebrows.

“My dad wanted to make sure it was what I wanted to do, and then he supported and encouraged me to do what I wanted and liked,” Chamberlain said.

Roman also had some initial concerns, particularly on a line populated primarily by young and middle-aged men.

“She gets along with everybody, and she started working with another woman who’s a little older than her,” he said, but she quickly gained the acceptance of her work leads and co-workers and blended right in.

“She’s learned a lot since she’s been here, but the biggest advantage was that she already came here with a good skillset,” Roman said, and was eager to listen and apply the methods that the more tenured welders teach her.

The job she does – welding metal highway barricades – can be a little intimidating, even for seasoned workers.

“The part she works on weighs about one ton, it’s big and clumsy and bulky and it’s not an easy welding job,” Roman said. “There are tight areas to get into, you have to have a sharp skillset in placing the parts correctly and reading a blueprint, but honestly, she ran into the fire and did very well.”

Well Prepared

Chamberlain’s preparation for the job is not only a reflection of her own passion and dedication, but also indicates the quality of instruction that the BCTC delivers.

“What they’re doing for training and helping students with skillsets at BCTC is fantastic,” Roman said. “Hazel was right on track where she needed to be. They’re doing very well training young students to blend in with the everyday workforce and have the skills they need when they graduate.”

Although welding metal barriers provides little room for artistic expression, Chamberlain said she likes starting from the baseline of plain metal material and seeing it get bent, tacked together, and welded.

“Seeing the end product is what I like, knowing that you made something useful,” she said.

She’s also grateful that she was able to find a job in a respected local company doing something she enjoys.

“Bedford County is special to me because most of the people you meet here are willing to try to help you, no matter what,” she said. “I don’t see that in other places I go, everybody has your back here. I’m also an outdoors person and like all the hiking I can do in the area, and I also look forward to working on my pap’s dairy farm when I’m not working.”

Mentor Role

Eventually, Chamberlain said, she would like to own her own welding business, and feels that God has given her the gift of welding to make an impact.

“There aren’t a lot of women involved in it, so I think it’s important for women to do whatever they feel like and are drawn to do in life,” she said. “I’d like to be a mentor for others who have questions or uncertainties about their own choices. That’s my goal, to show them that they can be successful in applying themselves to whatever they happen to be interested in.”

When it comes to hiring employees, “We’re a company that loves to teach younger people different skillsets and build the whole box,” Roman said. “We couldn’t be prouder of someone like Hazel coming of high school, wanting to do what’s historically been seen as a man’s trade and knocking it out of the park. All she wanted was to be given a chance to prove herself, and she did that right out of the gate.”