Hillary Piper's late father always told her she could do whatever she wanted to do just as long as she put her all in to it.
The 34-year-old Graves County mother of three recently took her father's advice to heart when she enrolled in a summer welding class offered by West Kentucky Community & Technical College at the Skilled Craft Training Center near Mayfield.
Working to gain an associate in applied science degree in electrical technology, Piper chose to take an eight-week welding class with two other women - Christina Bundren of Metropolis, Ill., and Tracy Kenson of Melber - this summer to meet an elective requirement for her degree.
"My father never wanted me to rely on anybody but myself," Piper recalled. "I would love to encourage women these days to do something that most women don't do because they think that (welding) is just for men."
As an increasing number of older workers retire, the welding industry continues to struggle with a shortage of skilled workers. The American Welding Society thinks women can and are helping to fill the gap. According to the welding society, the industry will need 111,000 new welders in the next five years. In 2012, there were 357,400 welders in the U.S., only 2 percent were women, according to the Department of Labor.
But that may be changing.
WKCTC Welding Assistant Professor Paul Caldwell said he used to see maybe one woman sign up for a welding class or in the welding program in a year. "Now, I've had at least one or two women in a class each semester," he said.
When she was younger, Piper took a year of exploratory technology at Graves County High School, where she also took machine shop, welding and electricity. "They were all very interesting and I had fun in every class," Piper said.
After earning her GED, Piper had three children, 14-year-old Alexis, 12-year-old Elijah and 7-year-old Dayshawn, before she enrolled at WKCTC to pursue a degree in electrical technology, which she expects to receive in December.
"I don't see myself sitting in an office or a hospital," Piper said. "Even though I have done those types of jobs, they are just not for me. Doing a job that I love and keeps me interested is great, but getting paid to do that job is a bonus."