Welding is all about heat, sparks, and the creation of something useful and sometimes beautiful out of raw metal.
For Renton Technical College (RTC) students Christian Ramos and Pedro Cadena, it is also a path to a better life. For the past year, they have learned the hands-on skills to become professional welders.
Christian and Pedro juggle full-time class loads and full-time jobs. Both commute long distances to the college, Christian from North Bend and Pedro from Pierce County.
Both also came from families that migrated to the United States from Mexico, and they are familiar with long hours and hard work. That experience motivated them to seek education opportunities and better careers.
“I grew up in restaurant kitchens, with my parents,” Christian said. He knew he wanted something different for his future, so he made the leap in a different direction, enrolling at RTC.
He was curious about the welding program because it looked like fun. It was also a much better career choice than restaurant work, as far as money is concerned. The median salary for a welder in Washington state was $44,600 in 2015 (U.S. Department of Labor).
Pedro began his schooling at Green River Community College in pursuit of an associate degree. But he soon transferred to RTC when he realized he had a different calling.
“I was better at working with my hands,” Pedro said. “It was either this or going to the university, and I decided I get more enjoyment out of the trades.”
“I couldn’t see myself in an office doing paperwork,” he said.
Both Christian and Pedro are happy with their choices.
“You can do amazing things with welding,” Pedro said. “Everywhere I go now, I can literally see everything that has been welded together.”
“I really like the instructors,” Christian said. “They are the best teachers I’ve had in my life. They explain all the different ways to weld better. And they are very funny.”
Pedro is hoping to pursue work in aerospace or with piping companies. Christian plans to take his training further by becoming an apprentice or working as a construction welder.
Rick Geist, an instructor in the welding program, said both Pedro and Christian are outstanding students, and he expects great things from them when they enter the work force.
“Being bilingual and in the trades as they are now, they are worth their weight in gold,” Rick said. “When they leave here, they will have good jobs.”