Joshua Zavala grew up with seven other siblings raised by educators in a culture where the expectation after high school was to attend a university and establish a successful career.

The now 23-year-old stood in the garage doorway at Texas State Technical College in North Texas rationalizing the events that occurred before he found himself with a torch in one hand and a safety mask over his head.

As April serve as national welding month, two TSTC students shared how the trade has provided confidence and future success.

Zavala invested thousands into education at three colleges and is technically considered a junior. He continued to change his major five times between various engineering degrees and computer science.

The 2014 Ovilla Christian graduate found the classroom curriculum harder to comprehend and realized a more practical experience would be more beneficial.

Zavala also had a hard time visualizing the end goal after college and couldn’t justify the money he spent on his education.

“I’m not trying to downplay college,” Zavala said. “I learned a lot, and there were a lot of great people, but I wish I could have done this sooner.”

Having never attempted welding, Zavala chose the industry out of curiosity and due to his interest in carpentry. He figured the two skills would pay off in the long run.

Zavala will graduate in the summer with his level one certificate in structural welding but foresees himself continuing his education in the field at the Waco campus.

“It has opened way more doors for me and has given me confidence," Zavala said. "It’s been fun and a good challenge for me."

Another TSTC student, James Hernandez, strongly agreed the profession should be recognized in April because “It’s an underrated trade. Not too many people are even aware of how much money they can make and what goes into it.”

Information provided by TSTC states the average first-year salary for a welding graduate is $40,015.

As of May 2018, the median annual wage for welders was $41,380 across the nation and is about $2,000 more in Texas, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Hernandez, a 2017 Palmer High graduate, heard about the middle-skilled job gap and wanted to find a career path in need.

While middle-skill jobs account for 56 percent of the Texas labor market, only 42 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle skill level, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The National Skills Coalition reported the demand for this level of job would maintain strong between 2014 and 2024, with roughly 50 percent of job openings expected to be classified as middle-skilled.

After high school, Hernandez had several successful opportunities. Graduating as top 10 in his class, he had his option to enroll at state universities and was also offered scholarships to play baseball at a couple junior colleges.

“I didn’t really feel like doing anymore in the classroom," Hernandez admitted. "I wanted to get out there and do something, so I came to welding. It’s more, and that is what I do like.”

Hernandez fends for himself but also resides with his mother who he helps support. He expressed a stable career in the field would allow his mother to retire and get the house paid off.

“My family has groomed me from the ground up, so I feel as if I owe it to them," Hernandez expressed.

The only thing that kept him from pursuing this pathway sooner was his own doubts in the career.

“They say you’re not happy unless you’re doing exactly what you want to do," he said. "And welding might not be my number one choice, but when it comes to money and being able to support my family and my mom, I feel that it is pretty important.”

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450