Welding Careers: A Conversation With AWS & NAVSEA Certified Welders

The technical skills for being a certified AWS and NAVSEA welder aren’t something you can learn overnight. It takes a lot of training, testing, and time to understand the various codes and procedures, and to become qualified.

Those who are up to the challenge can reap the benefits of a long and rewarding welding career. That’s the case with Zach Ebeling and Kyle Karweick, two professional, certified welders who’ve grown their careers at Fox Valley Metal-Tech for nearly a decade.

Hear what they had to say about their welding careers, and what makes working at Fox Valley Metal-Tech different from other metal fabrication companies.

How did you get started in welding?

Zach: I took engineering and auto classes in high school and learned the basics of welding, along with some CAD drawing. I did some TIG welding and knew enough to be dangerous, working on my car’s exhaust and other projects. After high school, I worked in construction for a while, but when I started a family, I went to welding school to help support them and took a nine-month course at a technical college.

Kyle: I watched shows like American Chopper back in high school and liked the idea of fabricating and designing things. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do out of high school, but I went to college for aerospace and mechanical engineering. I wasn’t really motivated by it because I’m more of a hands-on person and didn’t want to sit in an office all day. The technical college offered associate degrees in welding and I decided I’d try it out. Turned out, I was good at it.

Tell me about your career path at Fox Valley Metal-Tech.

Kyle: I was hired mainly because of my MIG welding experience with aluminum because that's what  a lot of military work requires. As I got better at welding complex products and grew my skills, others here recognized leadership qualities in me. Now, I’m a welding team and project leader; it feels good to work your way up through the company.

Zach: I started as a welder, and my supervisors gauged my skill set. They saw that I was good with larger, heavy metal projects like flood doors and hatches for combat ships. I led those projects and now train others on the team. I was also empowered to help develop an advanced welder training program that goes beyond the AWS and NAVSEA certifications to further develop younger welders’ skills and techniques on the shop floor. 

What did it take to become NAVSEA and AWS certified?

Zach: Welding school and shop classes are helpful, but you won’t get the certifications you need to work on the complex projects we do here. That’s why we have in-house training and our own weld school to develop our skills. Each metal fabrication company has unique weld procedures that have to be approved by the customer, and they don’t transfer from one shop to the next. Documents outline the temperature, amperage range, the type of weld, the sequence of each step, and more. The procedure needs to be approved, and the welder has to be certified to the procedure and the necessary AWS or NAVSEA codes.

Kyle: AWS has different codes for each metal set, including steel, structural steel, some hardened steel, aluminum, sheet metal, stainless steel, and others. Each type of certification will dictate the type of metal, material thickness, and joint that can be welded, plus whether it’s flat, horizontal, vertical, or overhead. The welded piece will be bent at the seam, referred to as a bend test; to pass and be certified, there can’t be any cracks or breaks in the weld.

RELATED ARTICLE: Understanding NAVSEA & AWS Welding Certifications

What do you like about working on complex precision welding projects?

Kyle: There's pride in being able to perform work at such a high level because not everybody can. One of my first welding jobs at a different employer didn’t require much precision, and it wasn’t as satisfying. I like the challenge and knowing the work I do makes a difference. It's cool to see a picture of a Navy ship and know that the parts I helped build are helping it sail and keeping thousands of our troops safe. 

Zach: The complex electrical enclosures that we make here go on Navy destroyers, submarines, THAAD missile defense systems, and aircraft carriers, like our EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launching systems) and typically involve very tight tolerances.  The challenge of achieving such tight tolerances and working on projects that make a difference is why I like working here.

What’s the coolest project you've ever worked on?

Zach: I worked on a turret base and A-arms for an electromagnetic rail gun that got mounted on the front of a ship. That was cool.

Kyle: I helped weld the command console bridge for a Navy destroyer, which was built out of aluminum. I saw a documentary about the ship, and it showed the bridge with the console and it felt good knowing I helped build it.

Are there other reasons you enjoy welding at Fox Valley Metal-Tech?

Zach: Air conditioning! It’s always 70 degrees. I’ve worked in shops where it’s been 120°, and we needed mosquito spray because they kept the doors open. I even had a helmet short out because I was sweating so much. Here at Fox Valley Metal-Tech, it’s always comfortable. Plus, everybody is really helpful and willing to help you understand a process or teach you a better way to do something.

Kyle: In other shops, I had to wear full leathers and it was 110° in the summertime. I agree about the camaraderie; this is the best group of people I’ve ever worked with. They're willing to work and collaborate with you to help you improve as a welder so you can go places in the company. You just have to be willing to learn and be willing to take constructive feedback as you grow. Attitude is everything.

If you’re eager to be a part of something bigger and enjoy being a part of a team of life-long learners, explore career opportunities at Fox Valley Metal-Tech. View our current welder, assembly, and other available positions today, and let’s talk.

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