'My story: How I became a welder'

January 4, 2012
By: Vicki Bell

If you're like me, you're interested in people's stories. We all have them, and typically they are more interesting than we might think. 

FMA Communications' editorial department—the department in which I work—got together last month to brainstorm all things related to our print and electronic publications. At the beginning of the meeting, each of us in attendance told the story of how we came to be editors with our publications. The stories of how we arrived at this same place bore both similarities and differences—not unlike the readers who responded to last month's "Welding Wire" with accounts of how they became welders.

Alex is a certified welder with 20 to 25 years of experience. A self-taught welder who later took classes, he is proficient in oxyacetylene, SMAW, GMAW, FCAW-G, and GTAW, and would recommend welding as a career. Telling his story, Alex said, "When I was very young, 4 or 5 years old, I remember my dad taking me to a friend's welding store. There was a guy welding in the back, and all I remember is how bright it was, and I was mesmerized by it. Since then, I was hooked. Later on, when I was 13 or so, I got a Lincoln 'buzz box' for Christmas, and the rest is history."

David C., a certified welder proficient in GMAW, GTAW, SMAW, and brazing, received his training on the job. He also started at an early age and has been welding for nearly 30 years. Here's his story: "I've been welding since I was about 8 years old. My father had a rigging company and machine shop. After I returned from the Army, I held jobs in various fields—exterminator, cell site and tower construction, and machine shops. I put in a job application at a local machine shop and wrote down welding as a job skill. I was asked to lay a bead with a GTAW machine and said, 'What's that?' They walked me over to the machine and said, 'Have at it.' I got the job and have been welding professionally since March 1999. I opened my own shop in 2007, and it's still going." 

Paul, a welder for more than 20 years, has a boatload of certifications and proficiencies. He received his training from a 2-year college welder/fitter program. His story goes like this: "It was in high school, many years ago, but I remember it well. After our shop teacher gave us some theory on welding, we went out to the shop and I struck my first arc. It was SMAW, a 7028, if I recall, and instantly, I said to myself, 'This is it; this is what I want to do.' 

"I got home and told my dad. He must have seen the excitement in my eyes, because he said, 'If this is really what you want to do, I will pay for your schooling.' 

"Right after high school, I entered a 2-year welder/fitter program at a college near where we lived at the time. That was 1979, and I have never looked back. I have a challenging and very rewarding career in the trade, and I am still at it. And I will add: I LOVE WELDING." 

David J.'s story goes back even farther than his childhood. The certified welder, who learned his trade from company-sponsored training and has been welding for more than 30 years, said, "I have always been interested in working with metal. Both grandfathers were metal workers; one worked for a bridge and iron manufacturing company, and the other was a journeyman machinist. 

"I took metalworking classes in high school. I picked up a stinger for the first time during one training class on SMAW. I was hooked. 

"A high school friend's father owned a heavy equipment excavation business. He gave his son and me some quick lesson on weld overlay on dozer under carriage rollers and laying down beads using hard facing filler materials and then turned us loose. I welding practically all summer and had a blast. 

"I really took a step toward a welding career when my father was working construction on one of the last nuclear power plants built during the late 1970s, early 1980s. He told me about the welder training being offered on the job site to help staff the construction crews. I was given an opportunity to get into one of the training sessions and jumped at the chance to finally get into a welding job. 

"I got through the first phase and passed the SMAW tests for structural work. I continued to go to the school after work two and three nights a week for the next 18 months. Topped out as a journeyman with qualifications for SMAW and GTAW for process piping. 

"I stayed with that general contractor for a couple more years and traveled to several states. Each job I was on allowed me to gain more experience in the welding field.

"Finally, in 1987, I had an opportunity to return to the same nuclear plant where I started my welding career. I took a permanent job at the site and worked my way into the maintenance department. I have been there ever since, holding jobs as certified welder, mechanical supervisor, weld group supervisor, modification group construction supervisor, and weld test shop supervisor.

"I still maintain welding certifications for SMAW, GTAW, GMAW, and brazing. Every step of my welding career has been a personal achievement." 

David J. had more to say about welding and the industry today, but that is a topic for another post.

What struck me in these welder stories is that just as our editors all had an innate talent for and were drawn to writing, these welders were hooked—mesmerized by welding when they first were exposed to it—and knew it was the career for them. I think they are lucky people, and I relate. How many of us can say that we were fortunate enough to find a career that's such a good fit for our talents and interests? How about you?

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Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209