Syd Knutson had always enjoyed working with her hands, but until she joined MTI’s welding program after high school, she’d only welded once before.
The Spearfish native is now a professional welder at Trail King Industries in Mitchell, a woman in a traditionally male industry.
When she learned about MTI’s welding program, she was intrigued.
“It’s a great program, welding is cool, and the money is good,” she said. “I was pretty happy to be accepted to the program.”
Travis Peterson, program director of the MTI Welding & Advanced Manufacturing Technology program, points to some changes in the industry that are making it more appealing to women.
“The stereotype of welding being a dirty, dark and unhealthy environment has drastically changed over the last 50 years,” he said. “With the proper training, equipment programming can be handled with ease by either men or women, creating an equal playing field.”
MTI has seen a gradual increase in women in the program since 2012.
“I expect the number to slowly continue to climb,” said Peterson. “The changes that industry has made to attract the manufacturing worker have been extensive, including flex scheduling to fit parenting priorities, segregating duties to match employee skills, ergonomics and of course, very comfortable salaries. The changes are appealing to men and women.”
When Knutson began at MTI in fall 2017, she was surprised to be one of only two females in the class.
“The guys in the class were very accepting of us,” she said.
During the 2018 summer, Knutson was able to secure an internship at Trail King. At the end of the summer, she was hired to work part time at the plant in the evenings.
“They are a bit more lenient with hours for students,” Knutson said. “We were allowed to work a shorter shift because we had class in the morning.”
Following graduation from MTI last spring, she signed on with Trail King as a full-time welder. She says she likes working with metal and takes pride in her work.
“The welds I’m putting down are good,” she said, adding that she welds the goosenecks on the large trailers. “I’m a hard worker, and I take pride in good quality. Ultimately, we want our customers to be happy with their product.”
Initially, Knutson was taken aback that some men would automatically underestimate a female counterpart, but she isn’t intimidated by working with a mostly male crew.
“Some guys might think a girl can’t read a tape measure or swing a hammer hard enough,” she said. “It’s important to keep my head up and keep moving. It’s fun to prove people wrong with the work I put out.”