Camp seeks to spark girls’ interest in welding, construction

Construction camp teaches girls welding skills

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The camp that visited Central Georgia Technical College’s welding lab Thursday sought to spark an interest in a future career for high school girls.

The Mentoring a Girl in Construction camp, commonly referred to as MAGIC camp, was founded in 2007 by Renee Conner of Winder. Since then, it has spread across the nation, including locations like Bibb County.

“It’s to introduce high school girls into the world of construction and a possible viable career for them,” Conner said.

The 56-year-old owner of Precision Tapping Inc., which she described as the “only woman-owned tapping company in the Southeast” said that she was driven by a shortage of workers of all genders in construction-related fields. As her generation gets closer to retirement, Conner is concerned there won’t be a next generation to take over companies.

“That’s what motivated me to do this,” she said.

As the MAGIC camp has gotten more established, Conner said she has begun seeing more girls choose fields related to construction. That includes some who have gone straight into fields like welding and others who have gone on to study industrial engineering at a university.

“We’re starting to after eight or nine long years of doing this,” she said of seeing former campers enter the construction industry.

It’s like drawing with fire.

Kayla Evans, welder

While some of the instructors are male, another goal of the camp is to connect girls with female role models in the field that they’re studying. For Thursday’s welding lesson, that was Kayla Evans, a 25-year-old welder with Zachry Construction Corp. at Plant Scherer. She said she started out doing more general work with the company but switched gears when she spotted the company’s welders working on a particularly cold day.

“That’s what I want to do. It looks warm,” she recalled thinking.

She passed the company’s welding school with little trouble, she said, and has found that she enjoys the work.

“It’s like drawing with fire,” she said.

Evans said she likes to encourage girls to get experience with various future careers to figure out what they like and to stick with that.

“No matter what they decide to do, when they get older, just follow what they like,” she said.

That lesson was sticking with Central High School freshman Goldon Bell, who attended the camp with friends. Bell, 14, said she didn’t really want to take part in the camp at first, but she’s enjoyed working with her hands.

“I’m a hands-on person,” she said, adding that just hearing about something wasn’t enough. “If I get to do it, I get excited.”

She said she was worried she might “weld myself to something” trying to make dragonfly yard art on Thursday, but there were other construction fields she could see herself doing one day.

“Maybe the sawing and stuff, because they said I was pretty good at it,” Bell said.

Kayla Evans’ husband, 29-year-old Randy Evans, is an equipment foreman for Zachry, and he estimated that 80 percent of his crew is female. That includes Gwen Arnold, whom Evans described as one of the best forklift operators he’s been around.

He said there are certain strengths he has noticed in women on his crews.

“They’re more critiqued on things, and they pay attention to detail,” he said.

Regardless of gender, Randy Evans said it is important to grow a future workforce because construction workers have become something of a “dying breed” in recent years.

“It’s a good trade, and you make good money,” he said.

Jeremy Timmerman: 478-744-4331, @MTJTimm