By Linda Schmid

Ethan Collins enjoyed school, and he was a history buff. Still, he didn’t care for writing papers. He really wasn’t into art either until he discovered that welding is fun! It’s a really particular kind of creative process, one that few know. This artistic endeavor allows you to take two pieces of metal and bring them together to create one new piece … it’s almost magical! So while he had always known that college was an option, he set his sights on welding.

The summer after high school graduation he and his buddies moved to Tennessee to work at the “Home Center.” In the fall, he started at the Kentucky Welding Institute.

His mother heard about mikeroweWORKS scholarships through her work with the EKCEP program helping people find their pathways, whether that means college, technical college, or a job.

Applying for scholarships was not Collins’ cup of tea; remember this is the guy who didn’t want to write papers in high school. Applying for the mikeroweWORKS scholarship proved to be worth it, however … it paid for all of his tuition at the Institute! He only had to pay his living expenses.

The S.W.E.A.T. Pledge felt right to Collins; he says that in a way it has always been a part of his life.

“That’s what I’d always been taught,” Collins said. “Growing up I saw how hard everyone worked. I learned by example.”

His welding instructors reinforced work ethic through their teaching methods. Students spent time out on job sites and they were required to do each job perfectly. They had to do it until they got it just right.

Collins works at Wells Brothers welding structural mezzanines, 18” pipe. He’s done a little bit of everything and he loves it! He has always liked working with his hands and with this work there is always something different … always a new challenge.

Welding is something that anyone can do, according to Collins. As long as you are willing to work hard and continue learning you can weld. He has worked with female welders and older welders, too. Sometimes, he says, a woman may have to put up with some stuff  from some of the older guys who may think she is not as capable. Still, if a person can show that they can do the job, there is a place for them.

Having a thick skin is important, Collins advises, and being humble gets you a long way too.

“Don’t ever let your head get too big because you are this great welder,” he said. “There is always somebody who can do something just a little better than you can. And that’s all right.

“There are plenty of opportunities, and you don’t have to do underwater (hyperbaric) welding to make good money.”

When asked what the industry can do to encourage people to go into welding, he joked that they could air-condition the job sites. “The elements are often what drive people away, but you can work in those conditions; it’s more about how you handle it,” he said.

People often think that welding is dirty, and it is, Collins said.  However, he and his co-workers have found that they have become cleaner because of the job. When they go home they keep everything very clean. It makes them really appreciate being in their nice clean home … a great way to finish a satisfyingly productive day. RB