Patricia Greene traded her Liz Claiborne shoes for a pair of John Deere steel-toed boots, and she's been happy with that decision since the day she made it. Well, actually just after the day she made it.
"The first time I ever welded anything, I almost cried. Right there in class!" exclaims Greene. "But now I think I could just about do any type of welding that we need to have done."
Greene woke up one day and found herself a divorced thirty-year-old with two children to support. "I had a house mortgage, two children, and no job. It wasn't a very pretty picture.
"I went to work for my mother who owns an industrial landscaping company," says Greene. "But that was hard on me because if it rained on Friday, I needed to work on Saturday and Sunday to make up the time and get the jobs done. At one point I was working a stump grinder, so I knew I wasn't afraid of hard work. I just needed more time with my kids.
"My sister Lieta called me one day and said that a company called Armor Chassis had just put a trailer office on some vacant land at the industrial park near her house. They had a sign outside that said they wanted to put together a crew."
Greene walked in and first spoke with Patrick Gilbert about job possibilities at Armor. "She walked in and said she needed a better job," says Gilbert. "I explained a little about the different positions that we needed to fill. She listened to me and then asked, `Who's going to make the money?' I told her that it would probably be the welders since that's a highly skilled job."
Armor had developed a new job training program at the Technical College of the Lowcountry. The college developed the program in conjunction with the State of South Carolina and Jasper County.
The training provided in excess of 90 "hands-on" hours of training, plus additional training to read blue prints and welding schematics. The training covers all forms of cutting and welding, with a greater emphasis placed on MIG welding. Most of the welding performed in the Armor plant is MIG-based.
"I applied at the college and I got a spot in the training class," says Greene. "Wilbur, our welding instructor, made all of us in the class feel very special. There were two other women in the class, and Wilbur knew we were there to learn and how important it was for us to be successful.
"A lot of the people that I went to school with are now working here at Armor. It's a good feeling to know that you went to school with all these people and that they all really want to be here." Many of the students, like Greene, attended school days and also nights so as not to interfere with their regular working schedules. All of the class time was performed on the attendee's personal time.
"I came back to Armor and re-applied for a welder's job," Greene says. "I knew I could do the job, and I knew that it was the best way possible to support my family. Armor hired me and I started by building the welding fixtures that we use today to build the chassis."
When asked if she's happy about her decision to become a welder, Greene says, "I get to spend more time with my daughters. Kelly is eleven, and Erin is seven. That's really important to me. Well, that and I like to see our chassis when they go down the road. I know that I've probably welded on just about each one that the plant has turned out."