A Welder’s Life – Skills Fueling Career Success

Welder welding aluminum
Welcome to the job market

Bill Schweikert’s 20 years in the US Navy taught him a lot about the world, the military and himself. It also taught him virtually every type of welding technique and technology. But some of the knowledge he acquired seemed to be pure instinct. Like Bill’s feel for how the job market works, even though he held the same job for 20 years.

“The day I left the Navy, I started researching the job market and the hiring process and quickly figured out how to position my skills. I developed my resume focusing on what seemed to me to be high value trigger words — MIG, TIG, stick, oxy-acetylene, plasma arc welder — and, of course, ‘20 years Naval experience’. I attracted pretty immediate attention.”

Navy bred, hyper-skilled

When you speak with Bill Schweikert you notice a few things. First is his humble, almost formal tone, no doubt acquired during his many years in the service. Second is an extraordinary gift for remembering specific dates and numbers. And then there’s his wide breadth of skills:

“I joined the Navy on June 17, 1992, and that’s the day I started my welding career. When I retired on June 30, 2012, I was ready and eager to put my skills to work in the world. I loved my career in the Navy. It’s where I acquired my love for welding. Over the years I’ve become pretty skilled at just about every kind of welding — MIG, TIG, stick. One of my specialties is plasma arc welding and plasma cutting. I have to credit the Navy for giving me the chance to learn, practice and perfect all these skills.”

After his service, he spent some time in different areas of the US, pursuing a degree in motorsports management, caring for his mother and welding for a few different companies when he decided to go back to school for a business degree.

Looking for Mr. Schweikert

While Bill was tending to family, work and school, he got a call that would change the course of his career. Julia Ring, a young Aerotek recruiter, was on a mission. Although new to her job, her people instincts and work ethic were fueling a tireless search to find the right candidate for a tough-to-fill shop foreman’s job at a fabrication company in South Florida.

Bill retells the story of their first encounter. “I’d just returned from my wedding, February 1st of this year and received a call from Julia at Aerotek. She wanted to know if I was interested in a position she was having a hard time filling. She described the opportunity and I told her, sure, would love to learn more.”

Julia gave us some background on her approach and why she thought Bill was the ideal candidate. “Even though I’m relatively new to this, it turns out I’m pretty good at finding skilled trades people. This particular company was unique, as I found out visiting their shop, meeting with management. I noticed a lot of military stuff in their offices and found out almost all of the senior team had spent time in the service. This gave me a key into who the ideal candidate would be for the shop manager’s job. When I found Bill’s resume and profile in our database, I realized Bill might be perfect for the job.”

Bill told us something else about that first call with Julia. “It’s funny how things work out, sometimes. My newlywed wife and I had just been having a conversation trying to figure out how we were going to pay back the money we’d spent on the wedding. After I got off the phone with Julia, I had a pretty good feeling about the answer.”

Character as career builder

We learned something else from Julia about Bill, which clearly contributed to his being offered the position. “When I was calling Bill’s references, I spoke with Bill’s commander in the Navy, who’d also been his best man in his wedding. He told me a story about Bill’s creativity and dedication to the job that cinched it for me. It was something that happened when Bill was at sea and the ship’s boiler burst. How Bill responded seemed pretty amazing to me.”

Bill explains the incident with his matter-of-fact humility. “We had just left port the day previous on an oil supply ship. When you put to sea, you try to imagine anything you might need and bring it with you. I guess they didn’t imagine one of the main boilers blowing, so when it did, we had to improvise. The back of the boiler had blown a hole in itself the size of softball. I found a metal desk and cut the top off, then custom cut a patch and welded it in place. I spent three days behind that boiler keeping the patch in place until we could put it into port for proper parts and repairs.”

Aerotek contract employee Bill Schweikert's Navy uniform and military-inspired welder’s mask

Pictured: Bill’s Navy uniform and military-inspired welder’s mask.

A life of learning — and teaching

When we spoke with Bill he had just recently started in the shop foreman’s role Julia had placed him. He was grateful for the company’s willingness to accommodate him finishing his last semester, while working part-time at the shop until he graduates this May.

“The company is great. They know the value of learning and they’re very supportive of me. The Navy was like this too. I was an accomplished welder with thirteen years in the service when the Navy sent me back to school for more skills-building. The shop I’ll be managing is over one million square feet. We fabricate things like the flood gates controlling water levels out on Lake Okeechobee. I’m back out on the water, or at least my work will be.”

With his passion for learning, we weren’t surprised when Bill told talked about mentoring, passing a career’s worth of knowledge along whenever he can. “I sold a welder to a friend years ago. Every once in a while, I’ll get a phone call from him in DC, and he’ll send me pictures of his welds, and I’ll tell him what he’s doing wrong. I get a phone call a half hour later telling me ‘that was it!’”

“Like a lot of lifelong welders, I keep pictures of my welds. I probably have 1,500 images of everything from big jobs on submarines to that fist-sized hole in the boiler. I’ve got another buddy back in the Navy who still calls me once in a while when he’s stuck working on a weld. He’ll send me pictures, and I’ll reach into my file of about 1,500 of my own welds and shoot him the image to help him out.”

Parting words

We asked Bill what advice he would offer young welders coming into the trade today: “Go to as many schools as possible. I wasn’t the best in school. When it came time to take tests for some of my welding certifications, it was rough. But there are welders making $50 or more an hour in certain parts of the world. That’s real opportunity for the ambitious welder with a thirst for learning. If you get into this field, be serious and pay attention to detail. Get really good at reading the blueprint. Know what you’re doing. It’ll pay off.”

Bill offered us a final piece of advice, which seems to us as powerful for young ambitious welders as to almost anyone managing a successful career. “My father told me when I was first starting out — everything happens for a reason. I met and married the love of my life, came back to town, got a call from Aerotek, and a month later here I am — three months away from another degree and working at a company I respect in a job I’ve been training for my whole life. My dad was onto something.”

If you’re as passionate about learning, leading and working as Bill, we’d love to talk. Have a unique set of skills that you developed serving in the military? We may have the perfect job for you. Take a look at our current welding opportunities and create or modify your free Aerotek career account today.