Erica van Frankenhuyzen found her passion at the age of 15. Unlike other girls in her class, she took an interest in welding and fell in love with it.
When she enrolled in a college apprenticeship, she wasn’t taken seriously. But now, the 25-year-old is part of the team building the huge playground at Manchester city centre’s new Mayfield Park.
Speaking ahead of International Women’s Day on Tuesday, the theme of which, ‘Break the Bias’ encourages people to challenge stereotyping, Erica says women and girls should ‘go for it’ when it comes to getting into careers perceived as just ‘for men’ .
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“I’m quite feminine, so when I walked in [to the college class] I felt I wasn’t taken seriously at all,” Erica, originally from the Netherlands, told the Manchester Evening News.
“They warned me that it’s something I really needed to think about before pursuing, lifting heavy materials, etc. But I smashed it.”
The fascination with welding sparked when her school introduced practical taster sessions for students who were less academic. And her dad de ella, who is in the metal trade, inspired her to think she could do it.
“My dad taught me very early on to work hard, it doesn’t matter if you’re not good academically, if you can find a trade you will always have a job,” she said.
“I was so focused on it that I didn’t focus on anything else. There was just something about being able to make something from nothing.
“I was the only girl doing welding, but I didn’t let it bother me. I fitted in well as one of the guys, so for me, it didn’t matter. If you have ambition, it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, who you are, if you feel like you can do it then you should just go for it.
“I’m so proud of how far I’ve come with it.”
Three years ago Erica moved to Manchester for a fresh start, first working within the aerospace and pharmaceutical industries, and now for Massey and Harris in Stockport – an engineering firm that specializes in playground equipment.
It hasn’t been an easy journey though. When she first moved to the UK, she found it very difficult to find work as a welder, and resorted to working in bars.
She’s experienced sexism at previous employers, receiving unsolicited comments, and had colleagues patronize her or be too stubborn to ask for help from a woman, she says.
Erika has only ever worked briefly with another female welder twice in her career, but doesn’t let that get to her.
“I don’t know any better, I always try to normalize things and conversations with my male team mates. I feel very safe around my current colleagues.
“I’ve been doing this for ten years, so for me, it’s normal. And it should be normalized anyway. I’ve seen so many more women doing welding now and it hypes me up so much.”
New research from the find-a-tradesperson platform, Rated People, identified the biggest challenges faced by women who work in the trades industry.
Their study discovered well over a third of tradeswomen (39%) aren’t taken seriously because of their gender. One in seven (15%) have had personal safety concerns when working, and almost one in 10 (9%) say they’ve had customers who won’t let them work on a job when they see they’re a woman.
But things are looking up as there were an estimated 33,000 tradeswomen working in 2019 compared to 15,000 in 2009 – an increase of 120% in 10 years – according to Direct Line.
Erica’s main advice for women is to ‘stand your ground’.
“You need to think ‘I can do this, I’m going to do it. Don’t let anyone think you can’t do it because you’re a girl, girls can go anywhere in this world.
“And do not stop believing in yourself. I have my head a bit in the clouds when it comes to people saying ‘but you’re a girl’, just don’t listen to them.
“I am a girl welder, so what?”
For more information on International Women’s Day 2022, head to https://www.internationalwomensday.com/
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