Career Transition: From Serving Tables to Welding

Andrea Cook, San Diego Continuing Education student and Certified Welder. (Photo courtesy of SDCE)

Andrea Cook, Theatre Enthusiast Becomes a Certified Welder

Andrea cook, a former theatre major from Graham, Texas moved to California to start a new career.

She enrolled in San Diego Continuing Education’s (SDCE’s) free welding certificate program. Cook, 32, is focused on starting an architectural lighting design business.

“I was about to be a theatre teacher, but endured health problems so I left and never went back,” said Cook. “I have a big craft side and welding was always something I wanted to do. I used to build lighting and stages for my school’s arts department.”

SDCE is the largest provider of noncredit education in California and offers more than 70 free career training programs including five Welding certificates; Shielding Metal Arc Welding, Gas Metal and Flux Cored Arc Welding, Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, Pipe Welding and Metal Fabrication. Programs are industry recognized and state approved.

“We began class by learning temperatures and how metal melts, then we moved on to blueprints and symbols,” said Cook, remembering her first semester. Prospective students can expect to commit 24 weeks to learn a series of welding practices as well as math, communications, and business skills relevant to employment in the industry.

This fall Cook became a certified welder, completing SDCE’s Shielding Metal Arc Welding and Gas Tungsten Arc Welding certificate program.

In 2016, women made up 4 percent of the welding, soldering, and brazing workers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual wage for this trade was $40,240 in May 2017.

“The men don’t expect me to be here and to tough it out,” Cook says jokingly. “That’s what makes me want it more.”

SDCE offers waivers for transportation, textbooks and equipment to students enrolled in a nontraditional area of study through the institutions’ New Horizons/Gender Equity center.

“Forward thinking employers encourage gender diversity in the workplace,” said Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D., president of SDCE. “As the older populations of welders retire, the nation’s labor gap increases and the demand for skilled workers becomes urgent, especially for women.”

SDCE has joined forces with San Diego and Imperial County colleges and noncredit programs in a statewide campaign, Learn More Earn More, to connect more adult learners to middle-skill jobs in Advanced Manufacturing, Energy, Construction and Utilities, Health and Information and Communication Technologies.

Cook has worked serving tables for many years. “I’m a lifelong waitress. I’m good at it, but there is no room to grow,” she said. “With welding I can always learn something new.” The aspiring light designer will complete her training in Gas Metal and Flux Cored Arc Welding and Gas Tungsten Arc Welding in fall 2019.

Andrea Cook works on Shielded Metal Arc Welding project

“You can tell Andrea truly values her experience at SDCE and it shows in the quality of work she produces,” said Brad Dorschel, Master Welder and SDCE faculty member. “She seems to have a very artistic eye and attention to detail. I could see her working in the custom fabrication side of the industry, building anything from furniture and home decor to custom motorcycles.”

Free welding classes take place in the Mountain View community of San Diego at the Education Cultural Complex, located just a few miles away from General Dynamics NASSCO, the largest full-service shipyard on the West Coast.

SDCE’s spring semester is underway, and welding classes are some of the most popular. Visit to sign up for a free orientation.


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