Women Turn to Welding for Financial Spark

  • June 18, 2019
  • By: Greenpath Financial Wellness

Fredrea Lakes still cannot quite believe how a six-week training program turned into a life-changing, $6-an-hour boost to her pay.

A year ago, she was living in a homeless shelter in Detroit and working minimum wage jobs. Her last check at her old job was just $40 because she worked so few hours.

Now, she’s wearing a welder’s helmet covered in Star Wars stickers — with a sticker of Jimi Hendrix on the inside — at her full-time job at The Armored Group factory in Dearborn Heights.

“This is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had income-wise,” said Lakes, 29, who often worked at retail stores or fast food joints.

Lakes took an intensive training program offered through Women Who Weld, a Detroit-based nonprofit, passed her weld test in October 2018 and soon snagged the welding job at the small factory, which makes armored vehicles for law enforcement, personal protection and others.

Yet making more money is only one step in her journey moving away from living at the Coalition for Temporary Shelter in Detroit toward providing a stable, working-class lifestyle for herself and her 6-year-old son Keivon.

Having a full-time job has meant dealing with extra costs associated with working, such as paying more for childcare and getting to work. She’s thinking more about her credit, worrying about how she might find an apartment closer to her job.

Real economic transformation doesn’t just involve learning how to use the proper tools to do the job. It also must include discovering the right financial tools to make the most of the money you’re earning.

“We also must be thinking, ‘OK, now you make $18 an hour, how are you going to manage your dollars? And reduce debt and build up your credit score so you’re not paying more for everything and effectively making under minimum wage because your interest rate is so high on that car you need to get to that job,” said Clarinda Barnett-Harrison, executive director, Detroit Regional Workforce Fund and director of economic prosperity, United Way for Southeastern Michigan. The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund, a collaborative housed at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, has invested $60,000 in the Women Who Weld training program.

“All of your disposable income is being eaten up by high-interest rates and high costs to live.”

Financial empowerment means knowing that if you pay the bills on time, all the time, you can work toward a stronger credit score. Limiting how much you borrow helps, as well. A better credit score can drive down the cost of borrowing money, as well as possibly cut the cost of things such as your auto insurance.

“If your credit isn’t improved, you’re effectively making less than the minimum wage,” Barnett-Harrison said.

“We’re looking for people to move along a pathway of sustained economic progress that doesn’t just benefit them but also benefits the next generation within their families,” Barnett-Harrison said.

“Poor people deserve to prosper too,” she said. “So we work on wealth building and wealth retention.”

To achieve that goal, the free-of-charge, six-week Women Who Weld intensive training program also includes an hour-long financial education workshop to provide a basic understanding of credit, banking, saving, and financing. The six-week program is fully subsidized for unemployed and underemployed women. To qualify for the free six-week program, applicants must have an income that is at or below the poverty line.

“What we’re trying to do is better position people so they are increasingly self-reliant,” said Corey Ciotti, managing director for Women Who Weld.

Ciotti said Women Who Weld most recently worked with the nonprofit GreenPath Financial Wellness to hold the workshops. Participants were asked ahead of time to answer the question: What keeps you up at night when it comes to your finances?

The presentation targeted those specific concerns. Some women worried about how to better track their spending and allocate more money toward savings. Others wanted to know how to build a strong credit score. Others worried about housing or student loan debt.

Danielle Crane, chief talent officer at GreenPath, said obtaining an in-demand skill, such as welding, is life-altering and can change a family’s future for the better.

Click here to read the full article on Detroit Free Press.


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