By Liana Aghajanian for The Atlantic
On a rainy Saturday morning in May, Samantha Farr was standing in front of a steel table, drawing loops in the air with a welding gun. “You want to hear a nice sizzle—and you want to breathe,” Farr, the founder of a Detroit nonprofit called Women Who Weld, told the dozen women assembled around the table at a community workshop in Ann Arbor. “This should be meditative.” She pushed the trigger switch and lowered the welding gun onto a small, squarish slab of metal.
The women—from cities across Michigan, and clad in mint-green jackets and gloves, their hair encased under caps—were learning for the first time how to weld, or how to fuse metals together. Farr pointed to the legs and frame of the table. “Metal is all around you and it needs to be welded.”
Farr was speaking to a broad economic truth. Over the past 18 years, the rapid advancement of automation and globalization has helped contribute to the loss of about 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of welders, and those in similar professions, in the United States is expected to grow 6 percent by 2026, compared with 2016 numbers. Much of the welding workforce is approaching retirement age just as the crumbling of infrastructure such as bridges, highways, and oil pipelines means a great deal of metal needs fusing. Unlike with many manufacturing jobs, large infrastructure projects typically require that welding takes place on site, which means the jobs can’t easily be transported abroad.