SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The droning sound of machinery drifted out of a red building Tuesday on Park Avenue in South Portland.
From the outside, with an open garage door, it looked like any other workshop, but the work happening inside is anything but ordinary.
Jo Remillard started People's Inclusive Welding in fall 2021 after a few years of working in the trades as a boilermaker. Remillard said the experience overall was a positive one, with a paycheck that climbed every year, but the environment wasn't as inclusive as Remillard thought it could be.
"I was the only woman on the crew — or femme person on the crew," Remillard said.
With support from some former coworkers and community members, Remillard began teaching courses to women and those who identify as LGBTQ+. The ultimate goal is to diversify the trade industries and encourage a nontraditional demographic to get involved.
Remillard said there are about 300,000 welding jobs available across the United States, so there's a significant demand for skilled workers, too.
"It's empowering to be able to make things with your hands. It's empowering to have a skilled trade. It's empowering to be paid well and respected," Remillard said.
Remillard said they don't know if there are any similar groups in Maine. PIW board member Arlo Hennessey noted some people have even come from out of state to take a course.
"We've had folks come all the way from Oregon," Henessey said. "We have a student coming from California."
For the five students who are part of an eight-week, full-time course, PIW represents a safe space for them to grow and try something new. It also helps to get rid of the "boys' club" mentality sometimes found in this line of work.
"It's nothing that I've done ever before, but just like the sparks and the kind of adrenaline rush that you get from it. It's just something that really pulled me in," student Milly Taylor said.
"I've always loved helping my dad with his house projects," fellow student Hannah Robinson said, adding she was looking for a new job that broke out of the standard 9-to-5 format.
Remillard said PIW just had a fundraiser and raised around $13,000. That money is helping to pay for the students' tuition since four of the five are using sponsorships, which help them with materials and PPE supplies.
There are two upcoming courses at PIW. Those interested can learn more by visiting the group's website.