At twenty-one years old, Erica Heckman is already breaking stereotypes by being among the five percent of American professional welders that are female. Having recently graduated from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Knoxville (TCAT Knoxville) with a degree in welding, Erica has been shining in the male-dominated field for years.
As a member of SkillsUSA--an organization dedicated to the skilled workforce--since high school, Erica demonstrated an aptitude for manufacturing early on in her career.
Her high school welding teacher, Jeff Hankins, stated, "I recognized almost immediately that she possessed exceptional hand-eye coordination and had an aptitude for welding. Through hard work and determination she achieved numerous industry certifications. She will definitely have a very successful career in this field."
Through her SkillsUSA membership, Erica has participated several times in the SkillsUSA Championships, which showcases the best technical talent in America. In the multi-million dollar competitions, which boast nearly 6,000 contestants in 98 separate categories, Heckman proved her talent by winning both a bronze and a gold medal in the Welding Sculpture category.
Recently Heckman participated in a pipe welding competition, where she won first place against third and fourth year apprentices, and secured distinction as the first female ever to compete.
Erica's latest and likely most notable achievement yet is her selection to participate in the 2015 World Skills Competition in São Paulo, Brazil. The competition will be four days in length, starting August 12th and ending August 15th. During this time, Erica and her other two teammates--Daniel Dossett of Friendsville, Tenn., and Benjamin Newman of Knoxville, Tenn.--must design, manufacture, assemble and test new or improved equipment. A year prior to the competition, each team was given a project specification to design during the year, and then must complete in just 22 hours over the allotted four days.
Heckman is eager to further prove her skills to the world in São Paulo, remarking, "I welded for four years in high school and one year in college and faced many obstacles being a female in a predominantly male trade. I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge and learning new welding skills."
Erica is one of only 19 selected members on the SkillsUSA team that represents the United States in the WorldSkills Competition. As the biggest vocational education and skills excellence event in the world, over 5,000 international experts and judges will be gathered for the competition to select the very best in 50 different occupational skill areas ranging from mechatronics and mobile robotics to floristry and fashion technology. Over 1,200 competitors from over 73 countries--including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Argentina, and many others--will be fighting to take home the gold.
On being selected for the United States' WorldSkills team, Heckman commented, "Being chosen to represent the United States in the WorldSkills Competition is humbling. There are so many young people in the USA who would love this opportunity, and even being considered is a tremendous honor. I realize how unique this opportunity is, and I am going to work extremely hard to make everyone proud!"