It’s no secret manufacturing facilities look much different today than they did ten years ago. The industry is producing more and at a faster rate. To meet production demands, companies now use advanced technology and require employees with a higher skill level.
Steve Henderleiter, a welding instructor at Moraine Park, is working to meet industry needs by educating students to utilize their strengths in the field.
“The industry has changed drastically over the years,” Steve said. “When I first started my career, the technology wasn’t nearly as advanced, and the diversity on the job was minimal. Females, my students in particular, offer a different and beneficial skill set to the welding profession. Mix that with the ever-evolving technology, and we have a fully collaborative and more effective welding lab.”
Today, women represent nearly one-third of the welding workforce, and this year, Steve has three female welders in his class. Mackenzie Markus, of West Bend; Kayli Mildbrandt, of West Bend; and Emma Parins, of Port Washington.
The three women are a dynamic trio, utilizing each other for support and camaraderie in the welding lab.
“There are more males in the class, but that doesn’t intimidate me,” Mackenzie said. “We are all very strong personalities, and we support each other. ”
All three women took advantage of tech-ed opportunities before coming to Moraine Park, preparing them to lead the way in their tech school classrooms.
“I was introduced to manufacturing in middle school,” Emma, a 2019 Grafton High School grad, said. “I was able to build upon those interests in high school. I enjoyed it, especially welding. I knew I would follow this career path.”
Emma suffers from an enlarged vestibular aqueduct (EVA) that affects her hearing. She is deaf in her left ear and will soon be completely deaf. However, she finds comfort in knowing she will still have the ability to excel in her career.
“I don’t need my hearing to be a good welder,” Emma said. “It will be a transition, but I know American Sign Language and English Sign Language, and I trust that I will be able to communicate and grow in the field.”
In the classroom, the women enjoy having the mixed-gender dynamic and it often turns into a competitive challenge.
“This isn’t just a man’s job,” Mackenzie said. “I’m a good welder, and being in this program brings out my competitive nature. I want to do better than the men, and in most cases, I do.”
Due to the need for skilled workers, many of Steve’s welding students will have job opportunities available to them before graduation.
“The joy of this field is my pay is dependent on my skill, not my gender,” Mackenzie said. “The better I am, the more potential I have. So, there is a chance I could make more than a man in my field, which is almost unheard of elsewhere.”
The average entry-level salary for a welder in Wisconsin is *$39,100.
Mackenzie, Kayli and Emma say they have never felt out of place at Moraine Park.
“Everyone has been so welcoming,” Kayli said. “Steve is the best instructor. I look forward to his classes.”
Their welding classes are held at Moraine Park’s regional center in Jackson.
“Steve treats us as an equal,” Emma said. “In this program, we have the same opportunity as anyone to excel in our skills.”
Mackenzie will graduate in May 2020 and has goals to obtain a degree in criminal justice, with overall hopes to be in the FBI. Emma and Kayli are scheduled to graduate in 2021. Emma plans to remain in the field, and Kayli has aspirations to follow in her grandfather’s footprints and enlist in the Navy. Her overall goal is to serve as an underwater welder.
Welding is just one area of manufacturing. The College also offers programs for CNC/Tool and Die, Electromechanical Technology, Fabrication Technologies and Industrial Mechanical Technician.
“My advice to any young women looking at the manufacturing field is to just go for it,” Kayli said. “Don’t let anyone deter you from your dreams and don’t limit yourself. There are so many opportunities to grow.”
**Fall/Winter 2019 NEXT Magazine feature story. Read the entire issue here.