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Michigan Welding Program For Women ‘Sparks More Than A Way To Pay Bills’

Published Monday, June 10, 2019
by Susan Tompor/Detroit Free Press Via MSN
Michigan Welding Program For Women ‘Sparks More Than A Way To Pay Bills’

(DEARBORN HEIGHTS, MICHIGAN) - 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 Jimmy 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 non-profit, 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 child care and getting to work.  She's thinking more about her credit, worrying how she might find an apartment closer to her job.  "New level, new devil," Lakes says of the financial challenges she's now coping with each day. 

Even so, she's glad to share her story about how she found hope in a new career: "I'd ‘rather struggle to get from here to there than struggle to get up.’  ‘I'm halfway through the battle.’  I'm ‘very’ religious and the ‘Boss isn't going to put more on me than I can bear.’" 

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, who serves as the Executive Director of the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund and who is also the Director of Economic Prosperity at the 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.

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