A New Tradition:‘Just keep trying. There are more North Industrials out there.’
EDITOR’S NOTE: The News and Press will be running several stories in a series on women who work in male-dominated industries. Sometimes called non-traditional workers, these women found jobs and careers that they love and didn’t let gender stereotypes keep them from pursuing their passions.
Donna Laurie thought when she graduated from high school that she’d go into nursing. However, after going to nursing school she realized the profession wasn’t for her.
“When I was in high school, I thought that I would be going into nursing and I went to nursing school; I just didn’t like it,” Laurie said. “I wasn’t a people person like a nurse should be.”
She worked a few other jobs before finding one that fit better: welding. Today, she works as a welder at North Industrial Sun Superior.
“I did bar tending for a few years,” she said. “I worked for the Department of Commerce doing the census; I was the Field Operations Supervisor for half of South Carolina at one time. I’ve always done different things but then I found this. I really like it; it’s relaxing to me. I’ve been welding for almost two years (now).”
Laurie said that her family is no stranger to hard, manual labor.
“My grandfather was into construction and my dad was too,” Laurie said. “My little brother is a pipe fitter so it is all in my family.”
Laurie said that while her career choice wasn’t much of surprise to her father, the same couldn’t be said for her mother.
“My mom was surprised that I wanted to do welding,” Laurie said. “She wasn’t too happy to start with because she was afraid I was going to get burned or get hurt. Now, she’s happy and she’d proud of me. My mom has never been one of those that tries to push you to do anything. She just always wants us to do whatever we do 100 percent. Whatever you are going to do, just do it and be happy.”
Raising three boys, Laurie said that she waited until they were old enough to take care of themselves before making her career change.
“I waited for my kids to get almost grown so that I could take the time off of work and actually go back to school,” Laurie said. “I’ve got three boys who are 20, 18 and 16. They love that I’m a welder. The youngest one, he’s come up here a few times and now he wants to be a welder. I want to teach them that anyone can do anything.”
Going back to school as an older student was not the only thing that made Laurie stand out.
“I was the only female in my class,” Laurie said. “There was one going in with the group ahead of me and one in the group behind me. I thought there would be more females but there’s really not. I think I was the first female to go through the pipe academy at Tech.”
Being the only female in the class, Laurie said that there was added pressure to make sure her work was good.
“They don’t treat you any different but they are going to look at you more because you’re different,” Laurie said. “It isn’t something they aren’t used to seeing so they are a little more judgmental, they expect a little better quality. They think, if she’s going to do it then she better do it right.”
Though welding is a majority of what she does at North Industrial, she also does fabricating.
“We get the blueprints and read them; we put the stuff together, square it and weld it,” Laurie said. “Today, I’m going to be tapping a bunch of holes that have to be drilled and tapped. We work from start to finish. Nobody has one specific area; you do everything. That helps me with my skills. All I knew how to do was weld and read blueprints, they teach you that in school. I didn’t know how to tap a hole; I didn’t even know what that meant. I broke so many taps when I was learning how to do it because I was just sitting there cranking it. Working at North really helps me get a variety of skills. They are a good company to work for.”
Entering a male-dominated industry can be hard as a woman. Laurie said there were many resumes sent out before she got the position at North Industrial.
“I applied everywhere,” Laurie said. “I put in so many applications and I was thinking I just wasn’t going to get anything. A lot of the times it was, ‘Well, we’ve never had a female work with these guys. We’re not sure how they would react. We don’t want anybody to say anything out of the way.’ I even had one guy call and he said he was calling for Donnie Laurie. I said ‘No, this is Donna Laurie.’ He said that he had an application for a position and I said that that was mine. Then he said that he was just calling to let me know they weren’t hiring. He wouldn’t call someone to tell them that they weren’t hiring; he thought I was a guy. Once he found out I was a woman though, they weren’t hiring.”
Just when she thought she’d never find a place that would hire her, she found North Industrial.
“I sent my resume in to North Industrial and they said that they had never had a woman welder but they’d try it,” Laurie said. “The first thing they said was ‘If anybody has anything out of the way, you come and get me.’ But I’ve never had a problem; it’s a good group of guys. You really spend more time with them than with your family when you’re working 8,10,12 hours a day.”
Though the days can be long and hot inside the shop, Laurie said that she really enjoys what she does.
“My favorite part of this job is seeing the finished product and knowing that its going to be there forever,” she said. “We did the Darlington Raceway signs and every time I drive by there, I’m like ‘I made that.’ The College Avenue sign in Hartsville, we made that. My fiancé works here too and I told him that I can’t wait for the grandbaby to get old enough so I can show her all the cool stuff that we did.”
Even knowing the long process it took her to find her place, Laurie said that she would encourage young girls to pursue what they love.
“I would tell any young lady who is interested to just keep trying; you’ll find somewhere,” Laurie said. “There are more North Industrials out there.”