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Master metalworker Julia Nikiel talks about her unusual day-to-day life as a woman in the metalworking trade

In Baden-Württemberg there are currently only very few female metalworkers. Julia Nikiel is one of these female metalworkers and is in fact a master metalworker. The 34-year-old manages the family business which is now in its 4th generation. She is a pleasant woman who knows exactly what she wants. She talks openly and directly about her exceptional career and her daily life as a master metalworker, company boss and mother.
What did you want to be as a child? Was master metalworker always your dream job as a child?

Dream job? No way! I dabbled in a few different fields: insurance broker, retail sales assistant, teacher, travel agent - I can't remember them all but they somehow weren't my thing. At one point I realised that it had to be something manual. Initially I wanted to complete a carpentry apprenticeship but then I didn't think that was a good idea because I had the metalworking trade right on my doorstep so to speak (laughs).

At what age did you start helping out your father in the workshop?

I was often here but not so often that I could already manoeuvre my way around as a child. But I was always interested in manual work, not specifically metal, more general stuff. This developed over the years but wasn't really planned that way. And it was never demanded by my family either. I have to say that because many people are of this opinion.

How many women were in your class for the apprenticeship?

I was the only one.

And in the master school?

I was also the only woman there. The first few weeks were similar to the apprenticeship. As soon as it became clear that I could meet the challenges just as well as the men I was also accepted there.

Did you get the feeling that you were being laughed at? Belittled? Or to put it differently - were you taken seriously?

Initially no. But they all got over it with time. It sounds stupid now, but they probably got used to it gradually, little by little.

Do you encounter prejudices because you are a woman?

I have been at this job now for 15 years and sometimes there are prejudices. But people slowly get used to me, I'd say. Or maybe not. Not anymore. And if it is occasionally like that, then they are always proved wrong afterwards and see that it wasn't necessary.

What fascinates you in particular about your job?

It is diverse. And the fact that we are so small means we make many different things. It never becomes monotonous.

How do you balance your job and your family life?

I am married, there are three of us: my daughter, my husband and myself. So it is sometimes a balancing act but it works when one is well organised. My daughter is well looked after at school and my parents also help out in emergencies. It is of course more exhausting and stressful than if I worked half-days and wasn't self-employed, that's for sure. But it works! It is stressful, but feasible. It has to be.

"Quick access to all information and rapid contact with customers and suppliers are a must. Long live Google, or whatever it is called!"

Owing to your job in a "male-dominated world", is there something which sets you apart from other mothers?

I am definitely much better organised, I also have to be! But I don't think I do anything else different to other mothers. My daughter is reared by us with much love and devotion and she can pursue her hobbies. I doubt that there is any difference for my daughter compared to other kids. But whether I distinguish myself from other mothers? Perhaps one is more relaxed in certain situations? I never even thought about it.

How do your organise your family life?

We both work full-time. My daughter goes to after-school care after school. Sometimes other parents view this as strange, it should also be said, although the after-school care is well-attended. Obviously there are many mothers, who want, must, can, are able, to do this. The demand is there. But then one is also viewed as a somewhat uncaring mother.

How do you and your family benefit from the fact that you are self-employed?

As a self-employed individual with a child I can organise my time much better and be more flexible than if I were an employee. This is a huge advantage for me. I can drive my daughter to dance class, or other activities, and then continue on here - I wouldn't be able to do that as an employee. From a family aspect self-employment is definitely positive, much more flexibility. I also always try to finish work on time so that my daughter can also maintain her social contacts. What I don't get done during the day I do in the evening when she has gone to bed. I am lucky I can still complete business matters even after 8 pm. The independent time management is a very positive feature.

Do you often work in the evening or at the weekend?

Yes, sure. I don't mind that, it's part and parcel of the job. When you work for yourself that's just the way it is.

You are a woman who carries a great deal of responsibility: for your company, for the employees, for your family? How does that feel?

I feel satisfied. It is a good feeling to have this responsibility. Otherwise, I wouldn't have chosen this path.

Was it clear when you came here to the company after your apprenticeship that you would take over the company one day?

Well, maybe it was somehow anchored in the minds of everyone - but nothing was specifically discussed. I also didn't look for it. Or expected that I would do it. It was optional. If I had said that I had no interest in running the company that would also have been OK. It became clear in the last two, three years.

"It is of course more exhausting and stressful than if I worked half-days and wasn't self-employed, that's for sure. But it works!"

What worked well for the takeover? And what didn't work so well?

It was a pretty smooth transition. Well there wasn't a particular day when it was said, OK now my father has gone and I'm here. We were always together beforehand and I did the same work as I do today. There was no tough transition. Naturally we talked about the takeover, also with colleagues, that from such a date it would also be official on paper. But the workflow didn't change. It was fluid. Of course many things are a little different now since then.

Like what?

The workload is somewhat different for me, just because of my daily routine. Also when it comes to order processing I do a lot of things differently to my father. Many things had become common practice to him over the years - a lot of things have also been carried forward because they work and are good but there are always little things where one thinks: "that's not so practical or useful now". It is then optimised slightly.

How is the world of the Internet changing your business?

A business is no longer possible without the Internet. Quick access to all information and rapid contact with customers and suppliers are a must. Long live Google, or whatever it is called! It is very positive.

Are there differences between you and your father?

Yes, for my father the Internet was not so important, he didn't use it as intensively.

Do you use the MEVACO Online Shop?

I get information online and look at what is available. But when it comes to ordering I am old-fashioned and like to make a telephone call. I look for the different products but I still call. It is often quicker, more personal and for me it is also easier to negotiate. I talk to your colleagues on the telephone about my requirements and then everything is super.

What are you proud of in your work?

„When we have done a good job and the customer is satisfied. When everything goes well, just as the customer wants, then we are proud - all of us.“

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