Regina welding camp encouraging young women to break stereotypes

An all-girls welding camp at Sask Polytechnic is designed to diversify the workforce of the trade.

'We’re creative as women,' one camper said

The campers heat up the metal to be able to bend it and form a rose. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Micah Knelsen spent a recent hot summer day with had her helmet down, working in a welding shop. 

"It's not sitting in a classroom," she said. "It's more fun and creative and gives you a lot of gateways."

Knelsen was one of a group of young women who took the Mind over Metal Girls Welding camp in Regina, hosted by Saskatchewan Polytechnic in July. The camp hopes to diversify the welding industry and encourage more young women to join the trade.

Young women in Grades 9 to 12 were invited to learn the basics of welding, create logs, hot dog sticks, roses and a cowbell before having creative time to make anything they can think of. 

Micah Knelsen is a Grade 11 student at the Mind over Metal welding camp. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Cassidy Kovach, a full-time welder-fabricator, is one of the volunteer mentors at the camp. She started at Sask Polytechnic with no experience. Coming back to help mentor the high school girls is rewarding, she said.  

"It's been really inspiring," she said of volunteering. "It hit pretty close to home."

Cassidy Kovach (right) currently works in the welding industry and was a volunteer helping out at the camp. Her younger sister, Tess (left) took the camp to learn more about her sister's work. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Kovach said it can be tough to be a woman in a trade.

"It's getting better, however you do deal with a lot of discrimination," she said. 

She said you have to stand up for yourself, even when it's uncomfortable.

"Don't take crap from anybody."

The young women are able to take their bent metal and turn it into a fully formed rose at the camp. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

This is the fifth year of the camp. Another one for women 18 and over will be held in August, Instructor Max Ceron said. The camps are run through a partnership with the CWB Welding Foundation. 

Ceron said many young girls would be great at welding but their family opposes it. 

"Many of the girls here love to create, they're very artistically minded, they're hard working girls and they have a great imagination and steel is a fantastic medium for them to express themselves," he said. 

The young women are encouraged to decorate their welded cowbells how they like with extra pieces or paint. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

A more diverse workforce is better for the industry as there's a wide range of skill sets needed, Ceron said. He said he has seen discrimination before, and that's why he works hard to combat that in the trade. It started when he first arrived as an immigrant who didn't have English as a first language. 

"Now, seeing the young women leaving the camp—projects in hand—is satisfying," he said. 

One of the teenagers used her free time to make a dragonfly out of extra metal. (Heidi Atter/CBC)
Max Ceron is the instructor of the Mind over Metal Girls Camp. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

In the future, Ceron said he'd like to see more donations to keep running the camps. The camps struggle for funding each year, and they would like to keep growing in the future, he said. 

Knelsen said she'd consider welding as a career because the pay is good and she enjoys it. 

"It's one of the best trades, in my opinion," she said. "It is a male dominated trade. But we're creative as women."