Weld like a girl: CCC female welder takes local workforce by storm
CLARKSDALE – While nursing is considered one of the largest female dominated professions, it just wasn’t the right fit for Bradley Luster of Clarksdale, MS.

Weld like a girl: CCC female welder takes local workforce by storm

Press Release from Coahoma Community College Public Relations; (662) 621-4061 - Brittany Davis-Green - bdavis@coahomacc.edu

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Thu May 14, 2015

Bradley Luster, right, stands along side CCC Welding Instructor Robert Burnley.

CLARKSDALE – While nursing is considered one of the largest female dominated professions, it just wasn’t the right fit for Bradley Luster of Clarksdale, MS. The mother of four had became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) after graduating from Coahoma County High School, but figured out pretty quickly it wasn’t her calling.

“I remember telling my mother pretty early on that I didn’t want to be a nurse,” said Luster.

What may be even more surprising is the profession Luster now considers her dream career—welding. The former nurse is currently employed as a welder at Saf-T-Cart in Clarksdale where she’s on pace to make roughly $14 an hour as an entry-level welder.

Luster first seriously considered welding as a career after learning about a Welding Certification offered at Coahoma Community College’s Workforce Development Center. Desperate for a career change after five years of working as a CNA, she decided to enroll in the program in Oct. 2014.

The six-month program, led by CCC Instructor Robert Burnley, meets twice per week for six months. Burnley, a well-known welding veteran has made a name for himself across the state for producing highly skilled and qualified workers.

But, could he train a girl?

“They said that she was my pet student,” Burnley chuckled. “…I told them that I was going to train her to out-weld all of (the guys).”

And he did just that.

Burnley said he’s only taught two other females in the program before, but Luster is the only one to “tough it out” and continue to work in the profession.

“She believes in what she wants to achieve and she puts forth all of her efforts to do so. She would constantly remind me, ‘Mr. Burnley, I know I’m a lady but treat me like I’m one of the guys because I want to get this right,’” he said. “She knew where she wanted to go, she knew what she wanted to learn, and I tried to give her everything she needed to land a job and excel.”

According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 7.8 percent of welders in the United States are women. However, given the Labor Department’s projection of a 15-percent increase in welding jobs by 2020, welding could be a viable career that most would have never considered.

“In the welding field, it’s not wide open in this area—Clarksdale, Batesville—as far as females, but the industry as a whole is changing because they’re finding out that women tend to make better welders,” said Burnely. “I most definitely agree with that because I’ve seen females I’ve worked with years ago still welding on the shipyard with over 35 years of experience.”

Of course, being in a male-dominated field, Luster has had to constantly prove that she too could do anything her male counterparts could do.

“I can hold my own,” Luster said. “It didn’t take them long to recognize that I wasn’t your average girl.”

After receiving her certificate April 14, Luster was overjoyed to receive a job offer the same day.

“I had been trying to land a certain job, but I didn’t know the same day that I received my certificate I would receive another job offer. It felt great,” she said.

She credits Burnley’s solid reputation for helping her land a job so quickly.

“Mr. Burnley really prepares you for work. He has a military style program—you have to be here no later than 4:06 p.m. and you can’t miss more than four days. …He isn’t cutting you any slack,” she said. “He is one of the best teachers. He takes time with each one of his students and meets them wherever they are. He’s an old school teacher; I’d put him up against anyone and bet that he’ll come out on top … I have that much faith in him.”

A couple of weeks into the job and Luster still has that same enthusiasm.

“I like everything about welding,” said Luster. “I love it …there’s no particular part of the job, I just like everything about it.”

She hopes that her story is inspiration for women everywhere to think “outside of the box” when looking for stable, well-paying work.

“Just be willing to do it anyway. It’s okay to be outside-of-the-box. Don’t be afraid of challenges,” she said.

Now that she’s finally in a field that she loves, Luster’s next goal is to work her way up to a supervisor position. Considering she’d already scored a “gold” level on the Career-Readiness Certification (CRC)—a test designed to determine a worker’s skill level—Burnley said she has a real chance of not only landing a supervisory role, but excelling at it as well.

“When they hired her they put in the truck factory. … they’ve tried several guys out there who couldn’t perform,” said Burnley. “She can adapt wherever they chose to put her though. … She doesn’t have any weaknesses—I can guarantee that.”

For more information about Welding and other career advancement opportunities available at CCC’s Workforce Development Center, call (662) 627-9139.