Kyle Tripp has had a lot of jobs.
She sold equipment at hockey shops, waited tables at a beach club, cleaned equipment at fitness centers and hung Christmas lights at the zoo. Although the roles appear dramatically different on the surface, they have a few things in common: low pay, no paid benefits and little promise of long-term stability.
That was life before she was introduced to welding through Women Who Weld, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that teaches women how to weld and find employment in the welding industry.
“I went from accepting $10 per hour and hoping I could work my way up to having real skills and knowing my worth,” Kyle said. “Now instead of working for minimum wage, I’m making counteroffers.”
As part of United Way’s Economic Prosperity work, we fund training programs and credentialing that lead to high-quality employment that provides a living-wage salary, health care, paid leave, clean and safe conditions, and opportunities for career advancement.
The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund (DRWF) provided a $60,000 grant to Women Who Weld. The DRWF connects people in Detroit and Southeastern Michigan with emerging and high-demand career pathways.
United Way is a member of the DRWF funders collaborative. Together, we’re building an ecosystem that is supportive of workforce partners, focusing on skill-building programs that promote career and education advancement. In addition, the DRWF works to advance policy and advocacy efforts that support workforce development.
Women Who Weld began its first DRWF-funded cohort in September of 2018 with a class of 10 women. At the conclusion of the six-week course, all 10 women found jobs in the field.
Wraparound support and strategic alignment is critical to the program’s success. Both are cornerstones of the DWRF’s work to connect people with careers that provide a livable wage.
“It’s critical that we are doing more than just educating,” said Derrick Meeking, director of Talent & Workforce Initiatives. “We’re creating comprehensive programs that are contextualized for actual jobs to give people the best shot at success.”
Women Who Weld and similar programs funded through the DWRF help to propel economic growth in the City of the Detroit, as well as throughout Southeastern Michigan and the state. We plan to continue the relationship with Women Who Weld by investing in future cohorts.
And the impact goes far beyond the individuals trained.
“Sure, we trained 10 women, but it also helps their families and their communities,” said Corey Ciotti, managing partner at Women Who Weld. “It’s also helping the businesses they go to work for to improve or maintain their output. Across the board – training in these growing industries helps everyone.”
The demand for skilled welding professionals is skyrocketing. By 2025, the nation’s workforce will need more than 400,000 welders to satisfy the demands of several industries, according to the American Welding Society. Locally, the automotive, aerospace, defense, energy, construction and transportation industries all have a dire need for welders.
Traditionally, men fill the majority of these roles. As a result, this career path with above-average earning potential is often out of reach for women. Women Who Weld Founder Samantha Farr took note. She decided to create unique, intensive career-preparation programs designed for and available only to women and began applying for grants and funds. Additionally, she started a partnership with the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS), one of the largest providers of housing to homeless families in Detroit.
The organization offers a range of ways to get acquainted with welding, from single-day workshops to the six-week intensive training Kyle participated in. During the six-week training, women learn how to weld and operate various metalworking tools and machines. Most of the participants are first-time welders and unemployed or underemployed. Donations and grants fully fund the training.
After a rigorous application and interview process, women are selected for what Kyle describes as “a life-changing experience.”
After graduating high school, Kyle had no career plans or money for college. She spent the next seven years taking a variety of jobs just to get by.
She graduated at the top of her cohort and got a job as a welder at a steel packaging company. Eventually, she accepted a highly sought-after apprenticeship with Ironworkers Local 25.
The training has helped Kyle outline a plan for her life that she couldn’t imagine just a few years ago.
“I’m thinking about areas where I might want to buy a home and about what kind of vehicle would be the most practical for me to buy,” she said, pausing to take in the substantial progress she’s made over the past few months. “This opportunity was such a gift. It’s changed the game for me completely.”
In addition to technical training, Women Who Weld also offers workshops on financial literacy, home buying and interviewing. They also tackle strategies for dealing with workplace issues such as on-the-job harassment.
According to Derrick, it’s important to take a holistic approach to career growth in the programs United Way supports. As a result, we maximize positive outcomes.
The programs funded by United Way and the DRWF focus on skills training in industries such as health care, skilled trades and green jobs. In addition, we invest in advancing individuals’ foundational skills like math and reading comprehension. Lastly, our programs help to build soft skills like communication and time management.
“We’re addressing all the systemic barriers like child care and transportation to give people the best chance of success,” he added.
Additional talent and workforce initiatives are currently in development. These aim to fill gaps in the workforce development landscape and create new opportunities for individuals to access programs. This means building a solid foundation of skills and education so that even more individuals can achieve career success.
“Welding has freed my mind in a way,” Kyle said. “I have a skill that no one can take away and that lets me know that whatever happens, I’ll be OK.”
Detroit Regional Workforce Fund
The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund brings together investors and leaders from the private, public and nonprofit sectors to spark and pilot opportunities that connect low- and moderate-income persons to emerging and growing career pathways. DRWF is an affiliate member of National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and part of a funder’s collaborative of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, General Motors, J.P. Morgan Chase, PNC Bank, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and United Way for Southeastern Michigan.