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Penticton’s women of steel

The National Women of Steel training program wraps up across the country
Donna Falck, 65, a student of the Women of Steeel welding program lights the cutting torch during class at Okanagan College. (Mark Brett/Local Journalism Initiative)

By Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The welding industry is another of the last bastions of male-worker dominance now falling by the wayside.The National Women of Steel training program is currently wrapping up in colleges across the country in the pilot project designed to encourage women and the non-binary to consider a career in the welding industry.

The Penticton campus of Okanagan College was one of the 14 locations in Canada where the tuition-free, three-month course was offered.

”I am totally on board with helping women get into this trade and helping them get the skills to improve their lives. This provides some women with a little more comfort when they’re learning a trade,” said first- year instructor and career welder Kate Scorah of Kelowna. “It depends who you are, some of the girls are quite comfortable just being one of the boys. They laugh at fart jokes and play with the best of them. Some of the girls are a little bit more gentle with their approach.”

She does offer her students some tips about how to deal with their male co-workers, just to be on the safe side.

”You do need to have a little bit of a tough skin and let things slide off your back,” said Scorah, adding that women do have to “prove” themselves a bit more.“Don’t take what the boys say too seriously. Let your work speak for you.”

Karina McGuire was one of 15 people who signed up for the program last spring.

”I saw this ad and it literally jumped out at me as an opportunity I can’t miss because it is specifically targeted to women and LGBTQ who are trying to get out there,” said McGuire. “I think the team (class) works a little bit better because of that. We are able to lean on each other.”

Fellow student Hannah Shore agreed, “I think for most people there’s competition, but instead of putting each other down we work together and improve each other which is really important when you are learning.”

Somebody especially on board with Women of Steel is Daniel Malo, director of operations for the Penticton Peerless manufacturing company which employs almost 40 welders, three of them female.”The women are just as good as the men and are actually a little bit better in what I would call the fine tuning, the more precise work,” said Malo, who started out with Peerless’ parent company as a welder in 1998. “So to have these students and this program is a win and perfect for our business.

”It’s a tough job. It’s a dirty job and we don’t have anything special for the women welders. It’s all the same pool, they do the same job as the men.”It is also a fun job. You build stuff, you see some progress and you get a sense of accomplishment and at the end of the day you get the reward of doing well.”Peerless designs and builds specialized trailers for a variety of heavy duty industries.

Meanwhile, when Donna Falck signed up for the course she wasn’t exactly looking for a new career having worked for many years in the restaurant business. What she was looking for was a way to put some spark back in her life.

”When I got to 65, I just became very sedentary, my body ached and I had to do something and so now this course has actually changed my life,” said Falck who got the nickname Sparky because she enjoyed watching her dad weld so much.

“Now Donna’s got her groove back. It’s given me hope and inspiration. Now I can weld steel and it’s put the spark back in my eye and my heart.”The Women of Steel, Forging Forward Program, is supported by CWB Welding Foundation, a national charity whose goal is to reduce barriers impacting key groups including women and those classed as under-represented through education-based initiatives.In addition to learning welding skills, Women of Steel students have opportunities that foster education, personal growth and confidence.

READ MORE: Downtown Slack Alley parties coming back to Penticton this summer

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