Tales of the Trades shares just some of the millions of stories in the skilled industrial trades, shining a bright light on the hard-working tradesmen and women who build, operate and maintain the world we live in. We also focus on the individuals and organizations working hard to advance industrial sectors and ensure their success over the coming decades.
Meet JoseyWeldz. Josey, aka @joseyweldz on Instagram and Miss Kay in real life, is an African American Welding Instructor with a passion for serving others. Originally from Virginia, Josey previously worked in the dental field and owned a maintenance company before pursuing welding as a career. Now based in Baltimore, Maryland, Josey is actively working to make change in her community through teaching welding and positivity to her students, which includes a new event she started called “A Weekend of Welding” to help make the skilled trade accessible to all. She loves her work, the people she’s met along the way, and is proud of what she’s accomplished as a black woman in a “brofession”. Josey strongly believes that women have long since earned the right to work in male-dominated industries, and those environments should be void of any harassment.
What led you to pursue a career in the trades, and specifically your chosen industry?
For me, welding started in the 6th grade. My favorite aunt was a pipe fitter, and my mother used to work on propellers for ships. She would always come home smelling like metal shavings, and the smell has always been with me. When I used to go to my grandfather’s house, he and my aunt Pamela would be in the garage welding, but we weren’t allowed in the garage. I used to be like, “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a welder,” even though I had no idea what in the world it was. I just wanted to get into the garage! I did dental for 13 years, then I separated from my husband, and I said, “Forget it – I’m going to welding school,” and that was 8 years ago. Now, every time I smell that metal smell, it just takes me back. That’s why stick welding is my favorite process.
What about the most challenging parts of your work?
I’m from Norfolk, Virginia, and in North Carolina, we have a plethora of shipyards. My uncles were welders, my ex-husband was a welder, and my son was a pipe welder. Everybody welds, so it’s normal. I had been around it, but when I went to welding school, I didn’t understand the technical aspect of it. I just thought I was gonna naturally get in there and be a welder, but that’s not how it goes. I had to literally come to school every day and learn soft skills, like how to be on time. I got frustrated. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but absolutely no one prepared me for me being an African American woman going into a male dominated industry. No one prepared me for that.
It was a culture shock. It was an eye opener, because the majority of jobs I’ve had since starting, I’ve always been the only woman welder. Sometimes, I’ve been the only welder and I just happened to be a woman. That was a challenge in itself…. getting them to not call me baby, getting them to not automatically want to come over and help me. You can pretty much discern when men are being overly overly generous, so you have to nip that in the bud.
Then it’s the racism that I’ve encountered. I can almost certainly say that never in my life have I been treated less than like in this industry. It still troubles my spirit to know that a human being could try to deliberately inflict this type of pain on another person for absolutely no reason other than the color of my skin. So being a welding instructor, I know that these young people are fresh in the industry, and I’m trying to change that. I think I’m doing a good job, because I believe that what you put out, you’re gonna get back. I make sure when I’m encountering women and my students, I’m letting them know: this is a male dominated industry, you have to have thick skin, etc. We are not hurting anyone by working in this field. We are helping enhance it. If anything, we bring in more women. It’s sad that some people really feel like we should be in the kitchen.
Everything I do, I do with love. I teach with love. I teach people how I would want somebody to teach me. Whether you’re white, black, young, old… you never know what someone is going through. You never know. So I want to be that positive beacon of light. I’m from the south, so nobody is a stranger – unless I come around you and the energy is off.
What type of challenges do you experience specifically in the role of a teacher?
The challenge for me has been getting the students to believe in themselves. I like to teach from a different perspective, because I am African American and I am a woman. As a welder, I take this job seriously. So say if I had a student who is showing up in flip flops and a robe, but they are letting you in the building… the front desk, instead of saying, “Hey, there is a dress code,” they are laughing at you. They’re not laughing with you. They are laughing at you. You’re not my student, but you’re still in the welding program, but if I say something to you, you go tell the admin on me. The stereotype is that these African American young men are walking around with their pants sagging, right? That’s a pet peeve of mine. I’m trying to bring out the best and train up excellence. If you come in and you’re getting mad because I’m telling you not to make a mockery of this program… that can get under my skin. I’m proud to stand behind the company that I work with now, because I know they support me 100%. If I have an issue, they don’t wait – they solve it right then and there. That’s what should be done.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I have a grandson. He’s seven, he is nonverbal, and he has autism. Some students come to me and they’re on the spectrum, so I’m trying to change the way people treat people – period. I know when I’m doing this, I have my grandson in the back of my mind. I’m all about humanity and how we treat others. Maybe you won’t hear how people with disabilities are being bullied and persecuted, or physically abused and mentally abused… everybody doesn’t learn the same. Maybe they didn’t go to a four year college, they’re here with me to understand that. We are all different. So if I need to dial it up because somebody’s learning at a rapid pace, I’ll do that. If I need to dial it down and scale back, then I’ll do that, because I understand the dynamics. I’m just trying to help as many people as I can.
It’s rewarding to me when you have every last student reaching out to me sending me pictures of their welds, telling me, “Miss Kay, Thank you so much.” It’s not me just doing my job, because it’s not just a job to me. I show up every day with the intent of: let’s see who I can make smile, let’s see who I can bring out of their shell. It is so rewarding when they all reach out. I also appreciate Rock the Trades more than you know, because you reaching out to me is motivation, inspiration, and validation that what I’m doing is okay.
What does it take to be successful at what you do?
It’s all mental. Being tenacious mentally, because of the profession that we are in. There have been numerous occasions in the field when I just wanted to quit. But I’ve never been a quitter. I feel like if we quit, it gives the doubters what they want. I know I’m qualified for this job, I know I do this job very well. You have to be your own cheerleader.
I really believe it comes with life experience. This year will mark a year that my twin flame, my soulmate, has died. He was a welder and CNC machinist, and he was my biggest cheerleader. Anything I did, he was always cheering me on. It is because of him I get up and I tell myself, “Okay, what would Antonio want me to do?” I have to go on because I know how he pushed me in life. In this last year, I’ve learned a whole lot about myself… I learned what it really means to be able to endure. I’m learning real self love. I have to get up and tell myself that I’m beautiful, that I’m strong, and that I deserve every good blessing that is happening to me. That is what allows me to come into the classroom each and every day with the same great attitude.
Women, educators, and people, period: we all have to find that mental health balance. Mental health is very important. We have to step back because we deal with so many personalities. The weekends are made just for me, because we need that. If you work in a full time job, you know that energy can transfer. We have to be cognizant of that part. That energy can transfer and next thing you know, we’ve taken it out on somebody else that don’t deserve it.
What other projects have you been working on aside from teaching at the school?
Right now, I’m on the mobile welding trailer working with Carroll County government workers and these awesome guys. I’m very proud of the mobile trailer. My first day with them… I mean, these dudes are big guys, they’re billy goat gruff. I walk in and it’s like, 8 in the morning, they’ve got their coffee, my boss is there with me… I’m like, I got to do this presentation in front of him and these guys? I’m thinking, “They’re not gonna clap, they’re not gonna cheer.” So I let them have their coffee, and as soon as somebody took the last sip, I said, “Okay, gentlemen, now it’s time. You need to cheer up and understand: we ‘bout to have fun!” It broke the ice. Now they’re like, “Oh, God, we can’t wait to see you.” Whatever I tell them to do, they don’t give me no backtalk. They just do it. All you have to do is allow me to be myself, and then we’ll act like we’ve been friends forever!
I’m from Virginia, and I don’t really know a lot of people here in Maryland. When Antonio died, I was gonna go home, but I knew he wouldn’t want me to do that. But every Monday since I’ve been here, the news starts off every Monday, another violent weekend in Baltimore, another violent weekend in Baltimore, another violent weekend in Baltimore. So I came up with “A Weekend of Welding” instead. I brought it to my company’s attention, and they said, “Oh, sure. You can have it here. What do you need?” Every answer was, “Oh, sure. Of course.” It’s amazing. I know I’m doing a good job when people get behind you and support what you’re doing.
It’s a free event. I’m not doing it for myself – I’m doing it for all of us. I’m showing you how to make money, I’m bringing in instructors, I’m showing you how we care about one another and how this can help you. We’re showing you a skill and how to have fun. I’m doing it so you can put the guns down and pick up a skill. I’m saving my life, and I’m saving your life. That’s why I want to do it. Men have for so long been taught that they’re not allowed to express themselves, that men shouldn’t cry. It’s just the opposite – you are human first. I say, “I need you to express that. We have to have open dialogue.” If there’s more of that, it’s gonna be less people bringing a gun to work, or storming out of the job, or domestic violence. Everything goes hand in hand. I just let them know that I care. It don’t matter what gender you are. I genuinely care about people, period.
What are your thoughts on the state of the trades right now industry-wise?
I think the marketing aspect sucks, as far as women are concerned. If you want women in this trade, start marketing right. I see a lot of people changing careers with the pandemic, so we can get them into the trades, whether it be HVAC, plumbing, etc. We also really need to go out into the community. With Baltimore city schools, it’s been on the news lately that students are really failing, so they’re gonna need a skill.
Any advice for those thinking about taking up an industrial trade?
Take it seriously. Because as welding instructors, we take this very seriously. I’d say welders are the crème de la crème. We know we have the ability to change a life, but we need you to do better. The bare minimum is to show up, and show up with an open mind. Just be respectful. We’re gonna do the rest, and we’re gonna get you to where you need to be. Everyone’s welcome, so come on in!
Last but not least: what’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
I like to read. I like to paint. I like playdough, and I like to sculpt. I’m also really into resin. It’s just so beautiful. Everything I come in contact with, I’m trying to put into resin! I would love to find new friends in Maryland to do things with, too.
Our thanks to Josey for making time to share her story and industry insights with us.