Reality television exploded onto the scene in the early 2000s with massively popular shows like “The Bachelor” and “Survivor” and then spiraled out of control with programs like “Naked
and Afraid” and “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Recently, however, Netflix began airing a reality show based around something a lot more practical but where the sparks can still fly: welding and metal fabrication.
Premiering in early September, “Metal Shop Masters” pits seven talented make and female welders against each other as they are given a scant few hours to fabricate works of art from metal. They face elimination with each challenge, but also have the chance to come out on top and be $50,000 richer.
Hosted by popular comedian Jo Koy, the contestants are judged by two prominent figures in welding: David Madero, a welding artist and owner of Madero/Co., and Stephanie Hoffman, owner of Underground Metal Works and program manager of workforce development at the American Welding Society (AWS). The two collaborate to make decisions on which contestants stay and which are eliminated. They also provide viewers with expert insights into welding techniques and a little bit of levity when the competition starts to heat up.
Madero, world renowned for his metal creations, including one 120-ft.-tall piece called “Monumental Christ,” says that while the show puts a big emphasis on what welders can do in the art world, it could also help welding students become motivated to choose welding as a career choice.
“All these students out there taking their welding classes doing perfect beads are going to start bugging the teachers about doing some crazy stuff,’” Modero says. “It’s going to be something very transformational for people to know that welding is just this big freaking tent, right? I mean, there are just so many different types of welders. The show is about metal art, but at the same time you have those welding machines, you have the grinds going on, you have those sparks and the art, and this and that. It’s just really good for everybody.”
And in this case, “everybody” includes a lot of potential viewers. Netflix has more than 200 million paid subscribers, which means that if only a fraction of them tunes in to the six episodes of “Metal Shop Masters,” it still brings a lot of eyes to a craft in dire need of a new spark of interest – especially from America’s youth.
Hoffman serves as the perfect counterpart to Madero when it comes to judging contestants’ work on the show. Not only is she a seasoned welder and metal artist, she’s also used to being in the spotlight. Her career includes helping AWS produce instructional videos in front of the camera and also in front of large groups of people – whether it’s with the AWS Careers in Welding trailer as it travels across the country or on stages for events like Fabtech where she leads welding discussions.
Those experiences made being on the reality show feel fairly natural for her. But before she and Madero filmed their first episode, producers had them do a “chemistry test” prior to appearing on the show to ensure they’d work well together. And they certainly did – Hoffman says they are now great friends and communicate frequently.
She also believes “Metal Shop Masters” can have an impact on getting America’s younger generations interested in welding.
“When I talk to parents on the road,” Hoffman says, referring to her time on the Careers in Welding trailer, “I tell them it doesn’t have to be a one-lane highway. Everybody paints this picture of a dirty factory worker or someone working in the pipeline industry but it doesn’t have to be that way. The sky is the limit in this industry, and I feel like the show really showcases that.”
Hoffman is a perfect example of the flexibility available to welders. Her personal business gives her the opportunity to focus on fabricated art, but she got her start in construction welding, which segued to pressure vessels, then to hydraulic recap welding and anodized pipe work for the yachting industry. She also teaches, hoping to pass the torch to the next generation of welders.
“I’ve never said no to opportunity,” she says. “Welding doesn’t have to be a monotonous career choice. You can get into the industry and be a pipe welder – that can be your bread and butter, your 9 to 5 – but there is nothing saying you can’t do signage for tattoo shops and restaurants or make custom furniture that uses metal and wood on the side. There’s so much you can do in this industry, and that’s what I’ve done.”
With more than two decades in the welding field, which includes her time with AWS, Hoffman is well aware of the need for a heightened interest in welding. To support that need, the AWS
workforce development program offers career resources to assist welding students in reaching their goals through scholarships and the Careers in Welding website that provides information about the welding industry, including jobs, salaries and schools. AWS also has a job placement resource – jobsinwelding.com – that serves employers and prospective welders in gaining employment.
Hoffman also participates in the AWS academy series, frequently stepping in front of the camera for video tutorials on welding, but it’s the face-to-face interaction she gets on the 18-weeks of touring across the country with the Careers in Welding trailer that motivates her about the future of welding.
“I always get kind of bummed out when people say kids aren’t interested in the skills trade,” she says. “I see thousands of kids in all these different communities across the country – from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Mobile, Ala., to Columbus, Ohio. Every place I go, there are hundreds of students and parents and people of all ages looking to get into this industry or switch careers. They want to know about the industry and are looking for advice on how to go to school, where they can get money to go to school and the best industries to enter.
“With people putting more emphasis on skilled trades and with a Netflix show of this caliber highlighting skilled trades as a career option, I think it’s definitely going to help impact those numbers in the coming years,” she adds.
ESAB Welding & cutting Products is the sole provider of welding equipment for “Metal Shop Masters.” According to a news release, Steve Molenda, senior director of global marcom and marketing strategies at ESAB, said the equipment used in the show is the same technology being used by millions of welding professionals, contractors, farmers, maintenance personnel, auto repair and motorsport shops, and of course, metal artists.
Within the first 15 sec. of the show’s trailer, viewers see ESAB’s Rebel all-process welder on the shop floor as the contestants dash to their workspaces and begin their timed welding competition. Close-up welding shots show them sporting ESAB welding helmets and protective gear.
The products featured in the show include the Rebel EMP205ic AC/DC all-process welder, a portable, all-process machine complete with MIG, flux-cored, stick, DC TIG, DC pulse TIG and AC TIG capabilities. The Thermal Dynamics Cutmaster 40 manual plasma cutter gives contestants the highest power-to-weight ratio and the flexibility to use 115V to 230V of primary power. Contestants also had access to a Victor cutting outfit, Sentinel A50 welding helmet and additional personal protection gear, including Weld Warrior safety glasses and Phoenix FR welding jackets.
“It’s an honor as well as a huge opportunity to promote the welding industry to new audiences, showcasing it as a career, hobby and means of artistic expression,” Molenda concluded.