Defying Stereotypes in Wautoma

Jessie Lloyd (left) and Julie Matulle

Defying Stereotypes in Wautoma

Instructors encourage more women to pursue careers in Welding and Truck Driving

| By: Britten, Casey

On any given morning at the Fox Valley Technical College Wautoma Regional Center, you’ll find Jessie Lloyd in the welding lab teaching high school students how to run a bead or perfect their welds. 

You may also see student truck drivers practicing their backing techniques in the parking lot or driving on nearby roads, led by instructor Julie Matulle.

These are common classes and activities. What is uncommon is that these two women are teaching in fields traditionally dominated by men.

“I’m really proud that we have two women in nontraditional occupations teaching in Wautoma,” says Mandy Mayek, director of the FVTC Wautoma Regional Center. “They are helping FVTC to embody representation. It’s important to have women in these positions who can be role models to young women.”

Jessie and Julie aren’t the only ones breaking gender stereotypes at Fox Valley Tech. Women also teach in nontraditional fields like IT, construction, mathematics, horticulture, agriculture, criminal justice and engineering.

NTOs by the Numbers

A nontraditional occupation (NTO) is defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as a field in which 25% or fewer workers are either women or men.

In the truck driving industry, women make up just 12% of professional drivers, according to a 2023 study by the Women in Trucking Association. And the numbers are even lower in welding: the American Welding Society reports that while there are expected to be over 400,000 job openings nationally in the welding industry by 2025, currently women only constitute 5% of the workforce.

Gender diversity brings new perspectives, and fuels greater idea generation, problem solving and innovation. For both men and women, pursuing careers in these fields can mean opening the doors to more interesting careers and higher earning potential.

The Women of Wautoma

For Jessie and Julie, they are just doing what they love to do.

Jessie began welding when she took a welding class in high school. She enjoyed it but admits that she didn’t consider it as a career at first. “I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn't know what I wanted to do,” she says. She started out by studying business and marketing while working as a welder, but soon realized she wanted to teach. “That led me to UW-Stout, where I earned a bachelor's degree in technology education, then I started teaching high school welding.”

She started at FVTC in 2014 and teaches welding and metal fabrication, splitting her time between teaching dual credit classes with Wautoma High School and adult students enrolled in the welding program.

“I love working with young people,” she says. “They're open to new ideas and learning. A lot of them aren’t sure what to do with their lives, so I have the opportunity to see what they're good at and passionate about and help guide them toward education and career opportunities that seem well suited for them.”

As a truck driver trainer, Julie works with students to teach them the ins and outs of operating a big rig. “I teach them how to back and shift, then we hit the road, driving around the streets and just learning how to handle their truck and trailer,” she says.

She herself completed the FVTC Truck Driving program in 2012, then worked as a driver for several years. In 2023, she left that job to start teaching other drivers. “I always knew in the back of my mind that someday I wanted to come back here. I loved being a student here, and now I get to give back and be a part of it,” she says.

Until recently, Julie has been based at the Appleton campus. In March 2024, she transitioned to Wautoma to teach truck driving students who are part of the Career EXCELerate program.

“I love seeing students succeed,” she says. “The first two weeks of class can be pretty challenging for people. So I love to watch when, after struggling with backing, they have the light bulb moment and nail it. Then on test day I'm as nervous as they are!”

Challenging Preconceived Ideas

Julie doesn’t necessarily think of herself as working in a nontraditional field. “I grew up in a family that had a small trucking company, and when my dad became ill, my mom started driving, taking three kids along with her in the truck,” she says. “My mom drove, my sister drove… so to me, this was the path. It’s what I was supposed to do since I was a little kid. Some kids want to be a nurse or a doctor; I've always wanted to drive.”

But she understands the challenges for women too. For several years she was involved with the Women in Trucking organization, which encourages the employment of women in the industry, promotes their accomplishments, and minimizes obstacles faced by women working in the industry. “It’s important for women to see other women in truck driving and understand that working in truck driving doesn’t have to mean over-the-road. If you have kids at home, you can often be home nights.”

Jessie’s experience as a woman in welding has been mixed. “It can be tough,” she admits. “There are still people who are surprised to hear that I am a woman and a welder.” On the flip side, she sees a growing acceptance for women in nontraditional occupations. “A lot of people are very accepting and they're getting used to working alongside women.”

She has this honest and straightforward advice for women considering working in the trades: “If you find something that you're passionate about, take pride in what you do and be sure of yourself, because no matter what you do, there's always going to be somebody who's going to be intimidated by you, and they're going to try and put you down. So be confident. You become confident through becoming skilled, and you become skilled through practice and schooling.”

Jessie also wants more high school counselors to encourage students to check out the trades. “I hear a lot of young women say that their counselors never told them about welding,” she says. “It’s so important for counselors to recognize when young women might do well in a trade, or just encourage them to take a chance to try out a class. All students should get exposed to the opportunities that their schools provide them.”

Julie wants everyone, whether male or female, to know anything is possible. “I think gender roles are thankfully getting more blurred,” she says. “You can do anything you want to do, so go for it.”

“There could be all kinds of folks in your life who could be discouraging you or trying to guide you to pursue something else,” Mandy says. “It’s going to take quite a bit of grit to stand up for what you really want to do. Pursue what interests you unapologetically.”