Chloe Sales is a welder at Alpha Manufacturing in Stafford. She started out her career training as a hairdresser and then worked as a carer for two years before moving into welding and starting an apprenticeship. Chloe now works as an ambassador for the profession and was awarded STEM Apprentice of the Year in 2019.
“I love challenging people’s expectations, it puts a smile on my face and becoming a welder is the best choice I’ve ever made. I’m showing girls that they can do something different and be something different.”
From hairdressing to welding
When I left school I did a hairdressing course. I was fifteen going on sixteen and I wasn’t really thinking purposely about myself at that moment in time. I think I just did it to fit in with what other people expected.
After that I tried working in health and social care for three years. I really enjoyed working in loads of different places but I decided I needed to make a change and I started applying for other jobs. The first one that came up was in a warehouse. I asked about welding because I heard they had a shortage of welders. I had a go and at it and I must have done OK as they offered me an apprenticeship!
I was the first woman at Stoke on Trent College training as a welder and I was nominated for STEM Apprentice of the Year in 2019, which was a hugely proud moment.
If you don’t try new things you don’t know what your capabilities are
By then, I was a year into my apprenticeship but I wasn’t really progressing as much as I would have liked, so I decided to find another job. I heard about Alpha Manufacturing and agreed to a practical welding skills test – I passed and Alpha offered me a job. Initially I started a 12-month welding course, which I completed in just five. I completed my apprenticeship in October 2020.
I’m a big believer in trying out different career paths, otherwise you could end up being stuck in a job you hate. If you don’t try new things you don’t know what your capabilities are, where you can push yourself and what you can physically do, until you try. If you have tried something and don’t like it then at least you’ve got experience and you’ve learnt something, so it’s never a waste of time. Moving forward I’d like to carry on mentoring other women in STEM.
Doing something unexpected
I love challenging people’s expectations, it puts a smile on my face and becoming a welder is the best choice I’ve ever made. I’m showing girls that they can do something different and be something different.
It’s so rewarding knowing that there’s been a rise in girls applying for welding apprenticeships. There are a couple of girls who are now training in my area. It’s great to see more girls in workplaces. It’s like when you buy a new car and all of a sudden it feels like everyone’s got the same one. I’m noticing more and more girls now. I know that there’s still inequality in certain areas but at least it feels like things are moving forward.
Changes due to COVID-19
Quite a lot of the work I have been doing just recently has been building hand sanitiser stations – it feels like I’ve worked on thousands of them! I’ve been assembling a lot of screens as well. We’re busy doing work for the agricultural sector and also gas. Being a welder and working in manufacturing means I’m classed as a key worker during the pandemic.
When I’m not at work I’m always reading and researching new welding techniques because it’s about understanding the science of it too. Learning different ways to manipulate your work by adjusting the heat and other variables leads to better outcomes. It’s like when you play pool – you can fluke it, or you can learn about the science of it and improve your technique that way.
Building networks using social media
I’ve been working hard to build my profile on Instagram. I’ve even been messaged by a woman who is like the Beyonce of welding – @barbiethewelder from America. She recently teamed up with another artist called Stephanie Hoffman to create the Statue of Liberty wearing a welder’s mask – it’s incredible.
Career advice for girls and women interested in welding
Welding hadn’t been on my radar before I started the apprenticeship. My advice would be to reach out and not to be afraid to ask questions. Do your research on Google first but then pick up your phone and start reaching out to people. You will get a lot more respect for asking for help because that’s all you’re doing. Everyone needs help.
I’d also say to be careful about the circle of friends who you surround yourself with. You speak with some people and you go away feeling uplifted and positive. Some people leave you negative and feeling depressed. Choose carefully.
Importance of International Women’s Day
Women have done so much to get where we are today. You just have to think about women like Rosa Parks. Today there are still certain places in the world where you can’t get anywhere or do anything without being a man. Even in the UK, how many women are able to make it to the top of companies and why is there still a gender pay gap?
On International Women in Engineering Day last June, I shared a LinkedIn post that got 68,000 views. I only had about 200 connections at a time. That shows just how strongly people feel about progress in this area.
Working hard to be the very best welder I can
Moving forward I haven’t got any plans set in stone, but with the way that the past year has been for me I can imagine that there will be a lot more training ahead. I’m also an ambassador for Young Enterprise and an education scheme network, helping to raise awareness of the different pathways into welding.
I will just keep reading the books and revising so I can be the very best I can at what I do. I get up and go to work at four in the morning. I love to show that I’m every bit as good as any male welder out there.