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Houston-Area Welding Competitors Speak Prior to the National Craft Championships [VIDEO]

A week before travelling to Florida to compete in the ABC 2016 National Craft Championships (NCC), five Houston-area welders spoke with me about how they became interested in welding, their career aspirations, and what they love about their craft.  Some of their sponsors and instructors were also on hand to comment as they met at the Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation (CMEF) Performance Verification Center for a final briefing before the competition.

Jose Morua, father of three, works full time for Jacobs in addition to taking classes in the welding program at Lee College.  He decided to study welding after a friend encouraged him to go to school to better himself.  He was working as a helper, but realized that in order to make enough money to support his family, he needed to become a craftsman.  In fact, Morua found that many companies don’t want to hire helpers, but are only looking for craftsmen.  He said,

“I didn’t know much about welding; I just knew that there was a good future in it.  When I started working for Jacobs, they offered to send me to school, so I jumped right on it.”

To prepare for the Structural Welding competition, Morua studied four books and practiced in the welding booth.  He told me that he was excited about the competition in Florida, but also a little nervous.  I asked what he would be asked to do in the competition, and he said he would have to do a vertical weld, an overhead weld, some cutting, and some blueprint reading in addition to the written exam.

Spoiler Alert:  At the NCC in Fort Lauderdale the following week, Jose Morua was awarded the Silver Medal in Structural Welding!

Brandon Moore, is a college graduate who previously worked in the health field, and now works for Jacobs.  He is currently taking college courses and will soon complete his associate’s degree in Welding Technology.  He won the gold medal in Structural Welding at last year’s National Craft Championships, and was returning to Ft Lauderdale this year to compete in Pipe Welding.

After Moore graduated from college, he wondered “What’s next?”  He got a job as a Certified Nurse Assistant making $8.23 per hour.  When he heard that Jacobs was hiring at starting pay of $15 per hour and many opportunities to advance with offered training as long as you put in hard work, he thought “Sign me up!”

Moore talked about what he likes about being a welder:

“I work in an oil refinery and we all work together – you’ve got your welders, your pipefitters, your boilermakers, your helpers – everyone works together, everyone learns a bit about each other’s craft so they can work together.  I was a pipefitter helper for a year and a half, and now I am a structural welder, and in a couple of months hopefully I will be an official pipe welder.”

John Membreno is a welding instructor for Goose Creek ISD at the Stuart Career Center in Baytown, Texas.  Membreno, who has been in the welding industry for seven years, taught welding at San Jacinto College before he began teaching the high school students four years ago.  I asked him what interests him most about the welding industry.  He said,

“Welding is a great craft, and if you like taking pride in what you do, and you have a good heart, and you have an artistic side to you –  because you are creating something, you are making something – it’s a good field for you.”

I asked how he helped prepare his students for the competition in Florida.  Membreno said that they set up their curriculum following industry standards.  They teach using the NCCER curriculum.  He said,

“NCCER is built by Industry, so it is a great blueprint for them to follow.  If a student is following that curriculum from the beginning, it is not as much work to prepare for the competition.  The program is run by industry representatives.  They have companies such as Performance, Fluor, KBR, Turner, and Jacobs come in and work with the school district’s industry panel to design the program.”

The 115 students who attend the Stuart Career Center to participate in the crafts programs are bussed there from other Baytown-area high schools, where they take are enrolled in traditional courses.

Raul Longoria is one of Membreno’s students who was headed to the National Craft Championships to compete in Structural Welding.  Longoria is a high school senior who splits his time each day between Sterling High School and Goose Creek ISD’s Stuart Career Center.  He also takes courses at San Jacinto College with the help of a scholarship from Performance Contractors, Inc.  He was preparing to travel to the NCC to compete in Structural Welding.

Longoria credits his dad and his one of his instructors for pushing him to complete the welding training.  His dad was a welder for 20 years and is now a weld inspector, but Longoria never thought about following into his father’s career until he was encouraged to go into welding by friends and family who said “you should go into welding: welders make a lot of money.”

He said that what he likes best about welding is that “you can always progress.”  He looks at each weld he makes and thinks “I can do better!”  He also talked about the career paths available to welders.  He said “You can always move up to QC (quality control), and you could just keep going – you know the sky’s the limit!”  Longoria hopes to one day be a welding inspector or working in “something high up relating to inspection and welding.

“I just like the atmosphere of the welding world, because you get to meet a lot of people.”

Zeek Garcia is a welding instructor for Pasadena ISD at the Career and Technical High School in Pasadena, Texas.  This is his ninth year as an educator. 

One of Garcia’s students is Michael Noschese, who was headed to the National Craft Championships to compete in Structural Welding.  Garcia spoke with pride about how quickly Noschese has learned his craft.  The new Career and Technical High School was opened for the first time in the Fall of 2014, but construction of the welding lab was not complete until that December, so Noschese was not able to begin welding until late December or early January of 2015.  Now, just over a year later, Noschese recently won first place in the District SkillsUSA competition, qualifying him to compete in the state SkillsUSA competition in Corpus Christi, Texas.

I asked what types of skills would Noschese and the other competitors be asked to demonstrate at the NCC competition.  Garcia answered:

“They are doing the structural welding contest.  I believe they have a written test, and he is a bright student, so I expect him to do well there – he has been studying a lot.  This is all stick welding and some oxy field cutting and I am confident that he will do well.  Just two weeks ago he got first place over some really good welders including high school senior Raul Longoria, who is also heading to Florida for the NCC competition.  Longoria is an awesome kid, a great welder.  We were scared of him, and we just inched him out by a little bit.  I think he will do very well – both of them will do well in Florida.”

Michael Noschese is a senior at Career and Technical High School in Pasadena.  He is studying welding, one of the career pathways that the high school offers.

“I will be competing in Structural Weld Test, so I will be doing a 4G groove weld and a 3G groove weld, blueprint [where I will have to read a welding plan and then create that part], and written exam.”  I asked how he has been preparing for the written exam.  He said that he has been reading over his two NCCER curriculum books Welding Level 1 and Welding Level 2 – reading over the entire material again to learn everything in those manuals.  He began studying welding 1½ years ago when the Career and Technical High School opened.

Noschese learned about the opportunities at the new high school when representatives came to his former school and “told us what the school is about.  It is extremely new and very cool.  It is a huge opportunity for people to figure out what they want to do with their lives.  I saw it, and I wasn’t going to go at first, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity and I just took it.

“Welding was just kind of out of the blue – I just decided to do it.  I don’t know anyone who has welded; no one in my family – but I will be the first.”

I asked what he likes about welding in particular.  He told me he loves the hands-on parts, but also the technical and scientific aspects of welding.

I asked about what type of career could he see this leading to.  He said that he could see himself in a fabrication shop.  He said you have to start small, but that he could definitely see himself in a career which could grow with him.

Spoiler Alert:  At the NCC in Fort Lauderdale the following week, Michael Noschese was awarded the Gold Medal in Structural Welding!

Salvador “Sal” Mellado is a logistics coordinator with Performance Contractors, Inc.  He recruits employees who already work for Performance Contractors who are interested in taking additional training to “move up with our company and turn a job into a career.”

Mellado started his career in construction as a helper and a pipefitter.  Although not a welder himself, he has a great appreciation for the craft.  He said, “It’s definitely a great career.  We have a lack of good, quality welders.”  He says his company is trying to improve their own workforce by sending their motivated workers to welding classes.  He said,

“Construction is a career – it’s not a job.  You start off and you progress with knowledge in the field, and with school.  Even if a person does not think he wants to go to college, when he works in construction, he can still go to college – we can send him there.  Instead of going to college for four years, he can finish his career training in two years – all while working and making great money.  It’s a great living.  In construction, as soon as you graduate from your two-year technical program, you can make as much as an engineer who is just graduating college.”

Justin Villareal works for Performance Contractors, Inc.   There Sal Mellado is his education coordinator, so in addition to working, Villareal is enrolled in the welding program at San Jacinto College.

When Villareal first started with the company, he dreamed of going into Construction Management, perhaps after becoming a crane operator.  However, when he got to his first assigned jobsite, he discovered that the company was not offering any classes in crane operation or rigging at that time.  He thought the next best thing – and the best way to make the most money – would be welding.   Villareal:

“I jumped right in, took [the bull] by the horns, and just ran with it.  It has been pretty fun.  I have got a lot of opportunities.  Between networking with Sal and the instructors at San Jacinto College, it has been a pretty fun ride.”

His classes at San Jacinto College are partially funded by the Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation and by Performance Contractors.  Because of the rigorous demands of working full time while studying for class, the company recommends that their employees only take one course at a time.  Villareal has his own ideas about that.  He said that since he is “too restless” for that schedule.  He took one course, then two courses, and is now enrolled in three courses toward his combo welding certificate – all while still working full time!  He credits his ethic of hard work with the nearly four years he served in the United States Army.  He said that after that “nothing else fazes you.”  He said,

“If you are given this set of gifts, you can definitely apply them in a field like construction.  It is kind of similar to the military in that way.”

You can watch excerpts from my interviews with these five competitors in the 6½-minute video below:

Look for interviews with organizers, sponsors, trainers, and others who attended the event in Fort Lauderdale in upcoming posts here on Construction Citizen.

The National Craft Championships hosted by the Associated Builders and Contractors was held this year in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on March 1-4.

The Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation (CMEF) is the training affiliate of ABC Greater Houston.