#WhyWeWeld: Saray Hernandez
Saray Hernandez is a traveling welder from San Diego, California. As a traveling welder, Saray spends time working in different parts of the United States, mainly on a number of structural and pipe welds. We talk to her about her experience as a welder, and her advocacy for more women in the trades.
Here's our conversation with Saray:
How did you become interested in the trades and welding? Has this been a passion of yours from a young age or is it something you took up more recently?
It all started in high school, when I was 15 years old and had no idea what welding was, but decided to take the class for fun. With the support of my welding instructors, I got more passionate about welding when they told me that I would have many opportunities in this field without having to go to college. I then took extra classes and even night classes, leaving the shop at 9 p.m. just to get more practice and pass more certs.
There are a number of different paths to becoming a full-time welder. Can you tell us about how you became qualified?
In high school, I had the opportunity to be certified in AWS stick and MIG, learn basic fabrication, blueprints, and other welding processes like TIG and flux-core. When I turned 18, I applied to a company in the shipyard. All they asked for me was to pass a vertical stick test, which I passed and got hired on the spot.
This is where my journey began, after having some hardships and even doubts that I would ever get hired in as a young female welder, but I finally took the first step.
What were the challenges in learning to weld?
The challenging parts were that I could hardly make any mistakes, since all eyes were on me. I had to work twice as hard as all the other guys and really prove to everyone that I was going to be successful in a male-dominant trade. But even though I had many guys telling me that this job was not meant for girls, I also had many guys supporting me, helping me become the best welder I could possibly become. I took all their advice and tricks to better myself and my welding skills.
You’re a traveling welder now. Can you share a bit about the work you do? Which welding processes do you specialize in or enjoy the most?
In 2 years, I became a pipe and structural welder, got enough experience to travel to Washington state to weld a lot of CuNi pipe from 1/2 in to 10in, in tight spots. From there I went across the country to Baltimore all by myself without knowing anyone out there to weld structural in a dry dock. I was the youngest person and the only female out out of 300 guys. I was welding inserts, ladders, tanks, repairing everything in this rusty dry dock with stick and flux core as well as using backing ceramic. I enjoy both pipe and structural but If I had to pick I would pick pipe because is more of an art and it challenges me in way to better myself.
There definitely are challenges in the trades. Tell me more about the challenges that welders generally face and that you have encountered yourself.
Some of the challenging moments I had was having to weld in tight spaces, having no space to barely move, and sometimes even using a mirror. On my social media I share that we need more woman in trades, because when I walk around the shop, the shipyard or any job site I always get mistaken as a secretary or fire watch, I'm the last one to be asked about any job projects when I should be the first one to be asked.
You’ve shared on social media that you support more women joining the trades, and that you want to “normalize females in the trades”. Do you find that women are underestimated in the trades, and how do you overcome that unfair perception?
It's not 'normal' for females to be in this type of trade, but I want to make the difference and teach young females to not be scared to join, and that it's time to break these stereotypes. We can overcome all of this by having more girls join because right now companies only have one female welder or none, when it should be way more than that.
What advice do you have for young people, particularly girls and young women, who are interested in the trades?
The advice that I have for young females is that if I was able to fly across the country all by myself for four months, without knowing anyone and prove my work and welding skills, then you're able to pass that ONE welding test and that will be the first step to an amazing, great-paying journey.