When Chloe Sales told her family and friends that she’d decided to become a welder, they all advised her not to do it. But the 24-year-old now works full time at a manufacturing firm in Staffordshire and was recently awarded Apprentice of the Year by Stoke on Trent College. She explains why she wants to inspire more girls to follow in her footsteps …
When Chloe Sales turned up for her first day at work, she asked some of the men to help her lift something. As soon as one came over to help, she picked it up and walked off.
“I couldn’t resist,” she admits. “It was too tempting. I love proving that I’m meant to be there.”
Chloe, 24, is the only female welder at the manufacturing company in Staffordshire where she works. With women accounting for just 4% of applications for welding jobs in the UK, that’s no surprise. But it’s something that Chloe is determined to change.
As a schoolgirl, Chloe says she had ‘no idea’ what she wanted to do. She tried courses in both health and social care and hairdressing but neither of them felt right for her. Chloe ended up getting a job as a carer but left to look after her nan after she became seriously ill. When her nan later went into a care home, Chloe needed a new job and ended up applying for a warehouse role.
Chloe, who was 21 at the time, says: “The warehouse belonged to an engineering company. While I was working there, I heard that they were experiencing a shortage of welders so I put myself forward for a position. They were very happy to let me have a go and I loved it.”
Chloe was offered an apprenticeship and enrolled at Stoke on Trent College so that she could gain qualifications while getting on the job experience. She’s the first woman that the college has trained as a welding apprentice.
She says: “When I was offered the apprenticeship, I was so excited and couldn’t wait to share my news but I faced a lot of opposition from friends and family. No one thinks of welding as being a woman’s job. It is seen as noisy, harsh and dangerous, and I think they were worried that I’d find it too exhausting – both physically and mentally, being a woman in a male-dominated environment.”
Despite the advice of her friends and family, Chloe decided to go for the apprenticeship. She achieved her full Diploma with 3 distinctions, 2 merits and a pass. She says: “I really enjoyed the apprenticeship – it was tough sometimes because I wasn’t the best student when I was at school and I had to work really hard but I did it and that was a great sense of achievement.”
Earlier this year Chloe was named STEM Apprentice of the Year by Stoke on Trent College. She has just started a new job at Alpha Manufacturing, a Staffordshire-based custom metal fabrication company which supplies metal components to companies in a range of sectors, including automotive, retail, electronics, agricultural and technology.
She says: “I love my job because it’s different. I like doing my own thing and being in my own lane. I enjoy the variety of work and the feeling of satisfaction that I get when I’ve finished a job. It’s well paid too. I don’t have a problem with being a woman in a man’s environment. I feel like I’ve found the right career and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.”
While 47% of the UK workforce is female, the figure for those working in core engineering occupations is only 12% according to Engineering UK. At the same time, the UK has a shortfall of 59,000 engineers a day. Chloe is determined to see more women filling the gap and now visits schools to talk to girls about STEM careers.
She says: “Everybody told me not to do it. That’s why I go out to schools and tell other girls not to listen to their friends or people who want to put them off. They CAN do it. I did. And I love it. I never had anyone to look up to in a careers way, so I’d love to be able to help at least one person, to inspire someone not to give up and to follow their passion.”
Chloe adds: “We all struggle with something – feeling like we’re not good enough or that we have to prove something. I tell the girls that I meet, just do something that you like doing, that you’re interested in and the rest will follow. If something inside you is telling you to go for it, then do it no matter what anyone else says to you.”
Ryan Johnson, Campus Director for STEM and Construction at Stoke on Trent College, says: “Chloe worked exceptionally hard to achieve her Diploma and was a very deserving Apprentice of the Year. She has also proved to be an inspiration for women in STEM by giving her own time to visit schools and work as an ambassador at our open evenings, highlighting the opportunities a career in engineering has for everyone – especially women. The lack of diversity in STEM has been well-publicised and we hope that stories like Chloe’s will encourage more women to consider it in future.”
For more information about engineering courses at Stoke on Trent College, visit stokecoll.ac.uk.