CASPER — Evelyn Miles knows about Rosie the Riveter, and she thinks there might be some resemblance.
In spirit, at least.
During World War II, the federal government created Rosie as part of a campaign to lure more women into the work force at a time when many able-bodied men were serving in the armed forces.
Many women who were already working low-paying jobs switched to better money in war factories. Others entered the work force for the first time. So great was the need that even women with young children eventually went to work outside the home, even though few people — not even many of the women themselves — initially thought that was a good idea.
By war's end, 18 million women held jobs, forming about one-third of the national work force.
Certainly 2006 is not 1945, and the U.S. is not locked in a world war. Today, it's not surprising to find women in all manner of occupations.
But like Rosie in her era, Miles works a job considered to be nontraditional for women. She, and other women like her, could also help address another labor shortage, this one resulting from an oil and gas boom rather than a war, but with national security implications nonetheless.
Miles is employed as a welder at J.W. Williams in Casper, where she keeps busy working on natural gas production units.
She received her training through the CLIMB Wyoming program, an effort by the nonprofit Our Families Our Future group to train single mothers in such nontraditional jobs as construction, truck driving and welding so they can earn livable wages and make it on their own.
The U.S. Labor Department defines nontraditional occupations as those in which women comprise 25 percent or less of total employees.
CLIMB Wyoming proved to be a turning point for Miles, who has two children. She worked most of her life in low-paying fast-food restaurant jobs. Now, she receives $15.50 an hour, along with a nice benefits package, working in the J.W. Williams measurement department.
Households headed by women with children under 18 are three times more likely than similar households with a husband and wife present to be at or below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data.
Miles, 40, said she has encountered little resistance from her male co-workers. "As a matter of fact, sometimes I end up teaching them things," she said.
Nor have the physical demands of the work been a particular problem. "That was easy. We use a lot of cranes, jack-stands and sawhorses, so we don't have to do a lot of lifting."
Miles, who began her welding education at J.W. Williams on Jan. 3, 2005, said her biggest obstacle has not been related to work at all: It was finding child care for her 2-year-old.
"That's the toughest part, especially when you have to be at work by 6 in the morning. Finding a day care provider who's willing to get up at 5:30 in the morning, I think that was the hardest part about it."
Women should not be intimidated when it comes to seeking work in nontraditional fields, Miles said, "especially if they're single and they're trying to do it on their own."
Pat Goen, senior human resources generalist for Halliburton in Casper, says much has changed in oil and gas service work, including the necessity to perform power lifts to complete a task.
"Gender is not that big an issue now because for the most part our standard is that no one is supposed to lift more than 60 pounds," he said. "We consider anything above that a two-person lift."
Goen said for many years, few women applied for nontraditional energy related jobs, but interest seems to be growing. He said several women are driving trucks for Halliburton.
Goen points out that the industry also is graying, meaning even greater opportunities to advance into supervisory and managerial positions in the years ahead.
"It's not going to be long before people with a lot of experience are going to be looking to retire," he said.
Even so, natural resources and mining — the fastest-growing sector of the state's economy since October 2003 — continue to be heavily male.
In 2003, according to the Wyoming Department of Employment, women made up 10.6 percent of total employment in the sector, while men accounted for about 75 percent. The rest were classified as "unknown."
However, the number of women working in higher-paid and more physically demanding energy and mining occupations like rotary drill operators was undoubtedly less.
Average annual wages for women in the sector were $29,543, compared to $46,354 for men, suggesting that women typically occupied more "traditional" — and lower paying — roles in energy and mining, such as administrative positions and office support.
In 2002, the U.S. Department of Labor found that women made up 6.2 percent of the nation's derrick, rotary drill and service unit operators in oil, gas and mining operations; 7.1 percent of the welding, soldering and brazing workers; 2.4 of the electricians; 1.9 percent of the carpenters; and none of the roustabouts.