At 23 years old, Paulding County native Kyle Lockwood passed the Certified Associate Welding Inspector test, the equivalent of an advanced degree in the welding industry. Academically gifted, Lockwood excelled in STEM classes at Hiram High School, and considered becoming a mechanical engineer. But, a desire to build projects with his own hands drew him to the welding industry.
Today, Lockwood is a welding instructor at Georgia Trade School, and is eligible for a future upgrade to CWI status, an accomplishment in his early 20s that many don’t entertain until they have been in the field for a decade or more. Given the pandemic, many young people are reconsidering their post-secondary plan, and Lockwood’s perspective is timely and valuable.
Why did you become a welder?
I honestly didn’t even know the first thing about modern welding the day I signed up for the program. I spent my time in high school as a good student, but with relatively low ambition for academic success. I knew I was pretty good at math and science, and enjoyed physics, and how it directly applied to the real world. I took some engineering classes offered at my high school, and was involved in the engineering club for a year as well. Based on all of this, I figured my best bet would be in the field of engineering.
I attended college, but very quickly realized that I really didn’t know what I had just signed up for, and I dropped out after only one semester. I really had no idea of what my next move would be. Then, my mother mentioned that my brother was planning on going to Georgia Trade School to learn how to weld. She told me about the program, and how I could still work full time while I attended school. So, I got online and did a very small amount of research and decided that trying out a welding program would be better than doing nothing to advance my career. I never even took a tour of the facility. I started at Georgia Trade School a few months later with really no clue what was in store for me.
This all seems extremely foolish of me to take such a chance on the program looking back on it. Luckily, I had a great teacher and mentor at the school, and I picked up on the basics of welding pretty quickly.
If not welding, what education and career path do you think you would have taken?
If I hadn’t found welding when I did, I’m not sure where I would be today. Part of me thinks that I was bound to end up involved with some skilled trade eventually, but who knows.
Advice to aspiring students?
My advice would be to always try to learn more. Every new skill you learn makes you more valuable, and makes that dream job more achievable. There are so many people in this industry who have so much knowledge that is ready to be shared with others. Whether it be your instructor at your school, your supervisor at your first job, or even the younger person who was just hired at your job after you’ve gotten a couple years of experience. Even us welding instructors can usually learn something from our students.
Where do you see yourself going in the future?
I would like to continue my education in the welding industry. I’ve toyed around with the idea of going back to college multiple times to take welding-related subjects. Metallurgy is something that has always interested me. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get that engineering degree one day. In the meantime, I am very satisfied with passing along the knowledge I have learned to my students, and continuing to build upon my welding experience through doing side jobs, and building things for family and friends.
By Ryan Blythe, contributing writer and founder of Georgia Trade School.