Joyce Wright didn’t set out to be a pioneer. She just needed a job, and painter’s helper—surface prep and “bustin’ rust” at the local shipyard—was available. So she took it.
Fast-forward 31 years, and Wright has climbed the ranks in the coatings trade to become a director of organizational development for Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding, where she does training for emerging and veteran leaders.
Much of what she has learned and taught will be the centerpiece of SSPC’s first “Women in the Coatings Industry” session, which debuts Wednesday (Feb. 2) at SSPC 2011 in Las Vegas.
Response to Demand
Wright and Cynthia O’Malley of KTA-Tator Inc. developed the two-hour session in response to suggestions from last year’s PACE evaluations.
Wright’s piece of the program will be a wide-ranging mix that may include everything from technical questions to mentoring. But don’t expect Oprah. Wright is hoping for male participation, in addition to a good showing from the approximately 175 women registered for the conference.
Many of the lessons she has learned focus on mentoring and leadership training, and she is passionate on the need for both—for women and men.
“The young women in the industry are not interested in the last 30 years,” Wright said in an interview with PaintSquare News. “We need to focus on the next 30 years.”
Despite continuing pockets of pushback, the protective coatings industry has more women supervisors than ever, Wright notes.
“Some are still probably wondering, ‘Wow, when is this industry going to change?’ And the answer is, ‘That will be when we mentor other women to come into this industry.”
“You have to focus on how to be a leader in this industry. You can’t blame everybody else for everything that’s going on.”
Wright has walked the walk. She was assigned to the “not luxurious” position of painter’s helper for two years. “I probably didn’t see paint for the first two years, but I learned a lot about surface prep and bustin’ rust,” she laughs. The job was long on grinding and short on ventilation, she recalls, adding with relief: “We’ve really come a long way in ventilation.”
After two years as a painter’s helper, she was accepted into Northrop’s four-year apprenticeship program—one of two women in a class of some 300—and was soon promoted to a supervisor’s position, supervising up to 26 painters at a time on submarines, aircraft carriers and other ships. She brought her lessons with her, eventually teaching at the school and later taking on a growing training role at Northrop. And the teacher remains a lifelong learner.
“I continue to get new SSPC certifications, and I’m fully NACE certified,” Wright said. “I’ve never forgotten about my craft and my trade that I started in, and I keep it in the forefront as I train other leaders.”
The Challenge of Change
For all of the changes she has seen over the years, Wright is clearly more interested in the changes that still need to occur in the protective coatings industry. Most boil down to this: Train more, and get used to change.
“We have got to open our minds and our doors to change,” Wright says. “We’ve got to have people on our staffs that have been people that we don’t talk to. We should have environmentalists on our staffs.”
“I really think change is going to be a huge hurdle.”
The changes should extend to safer protective coatings and practices.
“I think [the coatings technology] is out there; it’s ready, and it’s just waiting for someone to find it,” she said. “A lot of things for coatings we’ve hit on, but we can go so much farther. That means making coatings that work not only with our environment, but coatings that work with our workers.”
What are “coatings that work with workers?” She responds: “If you were asked, ‘when your child graduates from high school, would you want your child to become a sandblaster?’ If that answer is no— and I think in a lot of cases it is—then we need to address that. And that’s just one example.”
The Need for Training
The other big industry gap Wright sees is training.
“We need to develop leaders,” she says. “Leaders are not born; leaders don’t just come out of the woodwork. A lot of us [in the current leadership] just evolved, and we don’t have time for that anymore.”
Despite her success, Wright says she wished she’d had more mentoring along the way. “I came in here 30 years ago because I needed a job, but … as leaders in this industry, we need to ask ‘how do we get that leadership into our industry and how do we keep it?’”
“Today, we do not put enough emphasis on training. Any time there are cutbacks, training is the first to go. And it’s either ‘pay me now or pay me later.’ Luckily, at Northrop Grumman, they’ve always put training first.”
The Road Ahead
Wright hopes the “Women in Coatings” session provides “a good start” for a new, forward-thinking era in the protective coatings industry.
“How do we get people into the industry? A lot of that is going to come from education. When we go out recruiting, which is really educating our community, we go to the middle schools. And so we try to plant a seed early on.”
The industry also has to sell itself as a profession, rather than a job, she adds. “For the young people who come from college, when you say ‘coatings,’ they only think about paint and a bucket.”
“This industry is no longer paint and a bucket. It’s so far beyond that. There’s a place for everybody, and that’s what we have to show them.”
Regardless of how her session goes, Wright has a message for her colleagues, male and female: “If you’ve been in this industry for years, mentor someone.”