Pipe Fitter/Pipe Welder Apprentice, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 10, Roanoke, VA
- Gretna High School, Pittsylvania Career and Technical Center, Pittsylvania County Schools
- CTE studies: Welding I and II; Foundations of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources; Operating the Farm Business
- Additional studies: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10-hour training completion; OSHA
30-hour training completion; United Association (UA) Industrial Rigging certification
Striking a spark
by Jessica Sabbath
Derek Witcher’s passion for welding literally sparked in high school.
His high school agriculture class included instruction on welding—where metal is molded by heating it to the point of melting. “When I struck my first arc in ninth grade, it was eye-catching to me,” Derek says of the electric spark created when a welding rod makes an electric connection with steel. “Welding connected with me and was something that came naturally to me.”
Derek pursued welding courses throughout high school and at a local technical center. He had the opportunity to work on a variety of welding projects, including turning an old ambulance into a dump truck. “The owner still uses it to this day and is tickled pink with it,” says Derek.
A business agent from Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 10 was an instructor at the technical center and encouraged Derek to apply to be an apprentice pipe welder and pipe fitter.
Derek welds pipes in projects like coal burners, natural gas plants, nuclear power plants, and hotels.
He works for a union based in Roanoke, but he works on job sites all over the country. He may spend just a few weeks at a job site, or he may stay on a project for more than a year.
Currently, he’s working on Dominion Resources’ $3.8 billion expansion of its Cove Point terminal in Lusby, Maryland, to include the export of liquefied natural gas. The job is expected to take a year to 18 months to complete.
At the end of this year, Derek will be promoted to a journeyman, where he’ll take on more responsibility in teaching the next generation of apprentices. “My favorite thing about this job is traveling and meeting new people and doing something new with this trade every day,” says Derek. “There are no two welding joints that are exactly the same. It keeps you on your toes.”
Welder, Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News
- Huguenot High School and Richmond Technical Center, Richmond City Public Schools
- CTE studies: Welding I, II, and III; Auto Body I
- Additional studies: Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School; pursuing Associate of Business through Tidewater Community College
Learning and earning as a welder
by Jessica Sabbath
On her first day of welding class at Richmond Technical Center, Cynthia Roberts, wearing a pink t-shirt and pink backpack, walked into a room full of male students.
“They looked at me and wanted to know if I was lost,” recalls Cynthia.
Her skills at welding soon made her stand out in a different way. “Everyone at the Richmond Technical Center saw my potential,” says Cynthia.
Advancing quickly through welding techniques, Cynthia competed in Skills USA competitions. She won at the district level and qualified to compete at the state level her senior year.
Now a student at the competitive Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding, Cynthia not only earns a salary but is receiving an education, too. She’s working toward an associate degree in business from Tidewater Community College.
Cynthia is an apprentice welder on Navy aircraft carriers and submarines. Her apprenticeship allows her to acquire the skills needed to perform a variety of welds. The level of difficulty of each job depends on many factors, including the size of the space she’s working in, the thickness of the welding material she’s working with, and the possibility of toxic gas being emitted.
She loves the independent nature of her work – and is also competitive. “When you can put down a beautiful weld better than the guys, it’s something that I can’t help but smile about.”
Rob Borowicz and Mason Karafa
Welding Apprentices, Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News
- Arcadia High School/ T.H. Badger Technical Center, Accomack County Public Schools
- CTE studies: Welding; Technical Drawing; Engineering Drawing; SkillsUSA
- Additional studies: Pursuing Associate of Applied Science degrees in engineering from Thomas Nelson Community College; Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School
Molding a career
by Veronica Garabelli
Imagine building the Navy’s aircraft carriers and submarines that help defend our country. That’s what best friends Robb Borowicz and Mason Karafa do as welding apprentices for Newport News Shipbuilding—a job they’re extremely proud of. “It doesn’t get much more top of the line than what it is right now,” says Mason about his job.
Mason and Robb were recruited by Newport News Shipbuilding when they were in high school. They took welding courses at T.H. Badger Technical Center in Accomack County and even were national champions at SkillsUSA’s welding competition. SkillsUSA is an organization that works to make sure America has a skilled workforce. Robb was so impressed by T.H. Badger Technical Center’s welding program that he transferred from private school his junior year of high school to participate, joining Mason who is a year older than him.
When they were recruited by the Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School, they felt it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. The Apprentice School pays for apprentices to earn while learning their trade—and it’s no small sum. Apprentices start out making $15.95 an hour, and by the end of their apprenticeship, they are making an annual salary of $58,000. There are also opportunities to pursue an associate’s degree through local community colleges. A new program through Old Dominion University allows apprentices to earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical or electrical engineering.
Robb and Mason say their favorite part about being apprentices is learning new welding techniques. The hardest part is juggling work, school, extracurricular activities, and other nuances of adulthood. “It’s just a big jump coming out of high school,” Mason says, noting that apprentices, for example, don’t take summer breaks like many college students. “It was a big eye opener, but it’s nothing that, if you have a good work ethic, you can’t overcome.”
The Career Clusters logo and its extensions are the property of the National Career Technical Foundation, as managed by NASDCTEc. Some content on this page is from the publication, R U College & Career Ready? - 2017 Edition; and is used here with permission from the Virginia Business Publications LLC and Trailblazers in the Demographics and Workforce Section of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.