TAMPA, Fla. — College or trade school? We asked a local welder who quit college and gave up a career as an elementary school teacher to find out why he chose a trade.
The sound of metal grinding and sparks flying met us as we walked into the welding studio of Central Maintenance and Welding in Lithia, Florida.
"You can make all the noise you want. With welding, you can be as creative as you want," Kelly Denmark said. "I've got a welding shop at home. You know you are doing artwork and whatever else items that need to be built for people."
Denmark is the welding engineer and head of training for Central Maintenance and Welding, a career path Denmark initially didn't think to do.
"I went to college for about a year and a half. I was going to be an elementary school teacher and learned very quickly there was no money with this college degree I was going for," Denmark said. "The sky truly is the limit — I've got friends making over 200-grand a year with a welding hood on their head."
The married father of two said he couldn't imagine coming out of college in debt and not being able to support his family doing something he loves.
"I'm actually able to make a really good living feeding my family. Got a nice home, and its been good to me," Denmark said. "Gotta think outside of the box. We are capable of a lot of more than they give us credit for. It's amazing what you can do with your hands, a little bit of time, studying honing in on a skill."
According to industry experts, a welder just starting can earn $18 to $25 an hour. And as your skills grow, the amount of money you can make goes up.
"We've been so ingrained for the last 20 or 30 years to go the college route, and you see how that's working out people are coming out with massive debt," Daryl Peterson, the quality manager for Central Maintenance and Welding said.
Peterson is also the Chairman for the American Welding Society Florida West Coast section.
"There's a need out there right now for welders."
Peterson said a career as a welder could also help people right the wrongs of their past.
"Welding is a career that you can have a sorid past; even if you are on paper with the sheriff's department, you can still get a job," Peterson said. "There might be some jobs you can't go to, but with welding, there is so much need for it. There is a place for even criminals with a past."
According to the American Welding Society, the welding shortage will reach a deficit of 400,000 workers by 2024. The problem is that older welders are reaching retirement age, and younger welders aren't replacing them fast enough. The average age of a welder is 55, and fewer than 20% are under the age of 35.
"With welding, it's endless. It's endless the possibilities. You make your career what you want to make it," Denmark said. "My advice to someone on the couch is get off of that couch, put a welding hood on, and start building something. There is some serious money to be made."
Public Welding Technology Programs
- Hillsborough County Erwin Technical College
- Hillsborough Community College
- Manatee County Manatee Technical College
- Pinellas County Pinellas Technical College (St. Petersburg and Clearwater campuses)
- Pasco County Marchman Technical College
- Polk County Travis Technical College / Ridge Technical College