Sparks fly as women train to become welders

“It's grassroots change,” said welding instructor, Lauren Svedman

CHICAGO -- Sparks fly everywhere as students wearing thick helmets observe their teacher carefully weld a piece of metal. As the flame settles down and dies, the students take off their protective gear. Ponytails and long hair slide out from under hoods. Everyone in the room is a woman -- including the teacher.

"We're training women to work in a male-dominated profession that is often hostile," welding instructor Lauren Svedman told ABC News. "We want to help change that culture. We want to help inspire people to think about things differently. And we're building an army of women."

In 2018, only 6% of welders, cutters, solderers and brazers were women according to labor market analytics firm, ESMI.

Svedman was formerly a full-time welder herself. After what she calls a "meandering" career path, she settled on welding around six years ago. Though she said there were many "allies" in the industry, sometimes her male co-workers would pick on her because of her gender.

"Somebody took off my chair to mess with me" in one of the shops she worked in, she recalled. "It was just mind-blowing to me… that there was that level of childishness."

Today, Svedman works as a full-time welding instructor at Chicago Women in Trades, a non-profit based in Chicago, Illinois, that offers free training programs for women looking to work in welding and construction. The workforce readiness program was founded in 1981 by local tradeswomen.

"It's about creating the camaraderie, creating the culture, the sisterhood and building it up from the ground up and trying to inspire that change," she said.

In the welding program, women are enrolled every six weeks for a 12-week program. Students alternate between classroom time (learning math and how to read blueprints) to hands-on time on the school’s shop floor. Graduates leave with an American Welding Society certification and help with job hunting.

"It’s what I've always wanted to do," student Celia Vlahos told ABC News. "And that's why I am so beyond ecstatic that this program exists -- because I took something I've wanted to do my entire life and now I get to do it every day."

Svedman's eyes light up when talking about welding. The passion she has for the trade is clear.

"We want to get more women in non-traditional fields because that's how we're going to change it," she said. "That's how we're going to make a lasting impact and be able to prove -- defy -- the stereotype that welding is a man's job. Because clearly, it is not."

Watch Svedman’s episode above as part of the ABC News digital video series, “Trailblazers @ Work”.