Franklin Square resident encourages women to weld

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Everything went black for a moment, and all I could see were sparks flying off a green flame. Then, once it died down, I lifted my welding helmet, and saw that Georgette Clarke had burned a circle into a slab of metal at The Welding Workshop on Dec. 5.

The program was started three years ago by Franklin Square resident Pauline Badamo. It began organically, Badamo said, when she and a friend, Sarah Pratt, wanted to learn each other’s trades. Badamo, who is now 31, was working as a metal inert gas welder at the time, feeding a solid wire electrode through a welding gun and into a weld pool to join two base materials together, and Pratt was working as a stick welder, using electricity to melt an electrode that, in turn, melts both a metal joint and the electrode to fuse two pieces of metal together and fill the joint.

From there, Badamo said, she got more and more people interested in learning how to weld, and “realized I liked to see other people try it.” Now she holds workshops for women in Franklin Square at least twice a month, when anywhere between four and 20 women come to learn the trade. There is no age restriction, she said, and the youngest girl she taught was 8.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up only 4 percent of the welding, soldering and brazing workers in the United States in 2016, and Badamo estimates that she has met only about 10 female welders throughout her career. The American Welding Society, meanwhile, estimates there will be 250,000 vacant welding positions by 2024.

The jobs provide good benefits and opportunities for growth, Badamo said. “If you don’t like working in an office setting, if you’re a person that likes to be physically active and you’re interested in building things, I think it’s a great career,” she noted, adding that welders are always learning.

The career involves a great deal of science, she told the five women in the class last week, explaining that welding is an electrical, chemical and physical process to coalesce metals. “When you’re welding, you’re creating a short circuit” in which the ground has a negative polarity and the electrode provides a positive charge, Badamo told the participants, with the metal in between.

Before she got into welding, she was doing a different kind of science as a cook at Tavern on the Green in Manhattan. The salary wasn’t great, she said, and she had to work long hours. So, in April 2015, she got a new job doing quality assurance for Hempstead-based Gold Pure Food Products Company Inc. She checked the recipes, she said, and ensured that there was no yeast or mold on the appliances.

The company was bought out by Chicago-based LaSalle Capital only a few months later, and Badamo was laid off. At a local unemployment office, she saw an advertisement for the Local 28 Sheet Metal Workers union, and decided to try her hand at welding. She then got a job at Brett Fence in Franklin Square, and Brett Boerckel eventually became her mentor while she took formal welding classes at CUNY Brooklyn City Tech.  By the summer of 2016, she became an AWS Certified Welder. 

Badamo went on to become a welder mechanic for the Boilermakers Local Lodge No. 5 in Floral Park, where she worked on a boiler project for PSEG. Now, she works  in New York City with Clarke, who brought her 9-year-old daughter, Gemma to the workshop.

“Women are breaking more barriers now,” Clarke said. “I just wanted her to see how women can get out there and make things.”

She had previously brought her older daughter to the class, and said she was impressed by how thoroughly Badamo explained everything. “She’s phenomenal,” Clarke said. “I’m so proud of her.”

Badamo will spread her knowledge even further next  summer, when she will teach science, technology, engineering and math to students throughout the country while working to bring more welding programs to high schoolers on Long Island.

To find out more about The Welding Workshop, call Badamo at (917) 742-4770 or email TheWeldingWorkshop@gmail.com.

To find out more about The Welding Workshop, call Badamo at (917) 742-4770 or email TheWeldingWorkshop@gmail.com.