Women’s welding course at SSHS a hit

Kate Scott/Courier Paula Ross (right) and Jill Porter watch as Lisa Cusack works on a project during an evening welding class last week.

St. Stephen  – Beginning on evenings in September, the welding stations at the St. Stephen High School (SSHS) have sprung to life, sparks flying, when they otherwise would rest silent until the next school day.

Robb Wilson, longtime teacher at SSHS, started a free welding class for women, made possible with the help of the Canadian Welding Association (CWAF).
“They’re supportive of this trade,” Wilson said, adding the association has supported this course and others in the past, with acquiring material and equipment. “They’ve been super generous.”

The 40 hour class, which is coming to an end this week, took place two nights a week, for three hours each class.
Looking for participants for the class, Wilson posted the opportunity on a buy-and-sell group on Facebook, and said the post took off.

“I had to take [the post] off, because it was really popular, which is a good problem to have,” Wilson said, adding the class is full, with 14 participants.
“It filled up fast and with women only, I think it’s just a better environment for them, they’re more comfortable.”

Wilson said the women in the class took to it right away.
“It’s been great. They’re very keen. In just a short time, we’ve gone from them coming in their first night, everybody being a little apprehensive – of course you cover a bit of safety, and now they’re all out there working independently.”
When the class first started with the plasma cutter, Wilson said several of those in the class had consulted Pinterest for ideas, and were excited to start on their projects.

During a class last week, Paula Ross, who travels from Saint Andrews, is in the process of making a water fountain.
Before the class, Ross had no previous experience, and said if she hadn’t seen it on Facebook, it would’ve been something she never would have considered trying.

“My daughter went off to school, and I wanted to try something new. I saw it posted on Facebook, and I thought, ‘I’m going to try it, and go from there’, and that’s what I did. I really didn’t know what to expect the first night, and I love it. It’s a wonderful opportunity.

“It’s an adventure,” Ross said with a chuckle. “Every week you come in, you’re ready to do a new project, you can try new equipment” Ross added, noting in her time in the class, she’s learned stick welding, MAG welding, and how to use the plasma cutter – amongst other skills.

“Every night I’ve learned something different; stuff that I didn’t know how to use when I first started the program.”

For Ross, the decision to try something new was made easier with the all women class.
“Where [Wilson] just had it for females, I think it made… sometimes I think some of the women might have been intimidated coming in and welding. Robb’s been an amazing teacher – he’s giving up his time.

“The hands on experience definitely helped – it has been amazing.”
This is not the first course Wilson has taught outside of school – last year during March Break, Wilson taught the Mind Over Metal camps for younger students (with 12 to 15-year-olds being the target age), in an initiative to introduce younger students to the trade.

Typically, welding classes at SSHS were only offered to Grade 11 and 12 students, but due to the success of the CWAF program, this year, Grade 10 students have begun being introduced to the trade.

“As we move forward at SSHS, we hope to be able to continue to provide these opportunities to the people of our area of all ages, with the assistance of the Canadian Welding Association Foundation and ASDS (Anglophone South School District),” Wilson said.

As for the women’s class, Wilson said though there are no immediate plans for another course, it’s likely there will be another one.
“It’s been a really good experience, they’ve all enjoyed themselves. No one’s gotten hurt, and they’ve all learned lots. It’s been a really positive experience.

“It’s good for the community, good for the school. I’m confident we’ll have another one – whether it will be female only, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.”