Katy Zabrecchi shows us how women are reclaiming the welding space and shares her story.
Welding is not just a man’s job. It’s a job for everyone, and that means women too. Our patience, eye for detail and resilience are what allowed us to successfully take over the field decades ago, when real life Rosie The Riveters stepped up to drive the World War II effort to success from hometown factories.
However, times have changed since then, and women today have unfortunately been largely sidelined in the welding world. It’s this very paradigm that fuels one of my biggest missions in life: to reclaim a space that was once ours using the connective power of social media.
I began my welding journey in 2018. My previous work as an EMT and part-time makeup artist no longer brought me fulfillment, and I found myself at a crossroads of where to take my life next. It felt too late to get a bachelor’s degree and high school didn’t prepare me for this identity crisis.
A heart-to-heart with my dad—a longtime steel veteran himself—revealed my path: “Why not welding?” Shortly after, I started classes at Austin Community College (ACC).
It wasn’t easy at first. I was the only woman in a handful of my classes. I felt insecure in my brand new steel toes that were devoid of any signs of a spark gracing the leather. There were men who would watch me use the track torch a little too long so they could give me their two cents. Some even had the nerve to come into my booth and close the door to show me what I was doing wrong. It was at this time I joined the Women Welders Facebook Group in 2018 as a way to connect with my peers about our craft.
Navigating this new landscape was a task of its own, but never once was my drive to succeed diminished. I showed up to class early and I wasn’t afraid to stay late. School became a job; I mentally clocked in, gathered my supplies, settled into my booth and laid as many beads as I possibly could. Fortunately, I had fantastic instructors who helped me every step of the way.
I was invited to be a part of ACC’s Skills USA team in Spring 2019, the only woman to compete in the welding sector that year. Although we didn’t win, we did place fourth. At the time I couldn’t believe that me, a nobody woman bartender from Pennsylvania, would place that high alongside my team in a Texas-wide competition. Missing out on winning a medal fueled me to do better and sparked my desire to pave the way for more women to not only enter this competition, but empower them to take on the welding world once again.
Desire turned into action when I became admin of Women Welders that same year. As someone with first-hand experience cutting through the noise and prejudices in a community held by a cis male majority, paying it forward with my knowledge for other women in the industry became a new source of fulfillment. This group was just the vehicle I needed to open the door for others in my position, while also bringing all us women together as a stronger, cross-country collective.
The collective has gone further than I could have ever imagined. It’s done so much for me over the years, and in turn we’ve done so much for each other. We’ve helped polish each others’ resumes, and score jobs for countless new welders who normally wouldn’t be given a chance. When I got promoted, Women Welder members were there to help me negotiate salary. And every time I’ve questioned myself, they’ve always had the kindest words.
Outside the group, I continued to step into my own as a welding woman. I was given what felt like the golden ticket to the chocolate factory when I was accepted to the summer study abroad program at ACC. It was my first time traveling internationally. Three weeks spent at the Handwerkskammer in Koblenz, Germany led to my ISO certification that allowed me to weld stainless steel pipe and sheet metal. I visited Paris, France on a free weekend and will never forget the moment when I first stepped into the courtyard of the Louvre, tears falling down my face while Parisians and tourists were strolling and taking photos around me. I had literally found myself in one of the most beautiful, romantic and luxurious cities in the world simply by defying norms and picking up a welding torch.
As I’m sitting here writing this at my fabrication table at the welding job I’ve held for over a year, I look back on all of my accomplishments. Ever since falling in love with the artform and the innate beauty that shaping metal holds, I felt something ignite in my soul that left me hungry for more.
Now, it is my goal to help others feel this same way and I’m proud to say that Women Welders has played a large role in this mission. I’ve built an amazing and supportive community with over 5,500 members that continues to grow every day. My school and I are even in talks to create a scholarship for Women Welders, inspired by the group’s success. No matter where you live , your age or the stage of life you’re in, I encourage you to join our community and come weld. Women will always have a place in this industry and they will always have a seat at my table.
Welder by day and makeup artist by night, Katy Zabrecchi has made it her mission to support and uplift other women-identifying people wanting to enter her field. She’s helped foster a close-knit environment within her 6k-member community, where its members actively assist each other in applying for trade unions, admission to trade schools, learning new tricks in the industry, and advocating for a more equitable workplace.