An Apprenticeship, a Career and a Trading Card
October 26, 2017
By Dominic Wilkerson, Owner of Wilkerson Welding
If you would have asked me in 1984 if I was going to go to school after I graduated, I would have said no way! School wasn’t exactly my favorite thing to do as a teen, and I certainly wasn’t interested in going to college. I worked all through school for different kinds of businesses, and I figured one of them would stick and that’s what I would do. To be honest, I don’t think I really thought much about a career, but I did know that I wanted to make good money and have nice things. I liked toys – trucks, four wheelers, buggies – you name it. I split my time between the Florida Keys and the Everglades on the weekends, so I needed something that would allow me to keep doing what I liked.
When I got a job mowing for the Dade County School Board in 1988, I figured it was just a foot in the door to find a good paying job with an employer that I knew would be around for a long time. An opportunity came up pretty quickly to move into the welding department and it sounded interesting. I started as a welder helper and then was told about their apprenticeship program. They said I would work during the day under different journeymen, and they would pay for me to go to school at night. Although I had previously pledged no more school, I did like the fact that this would put me on a path to pay raises and a way to become a journeyman myself.
I worked during the day and went to school at night at Robert Morgan Technical School and then Miami Star Tech. At first my goal was simple – finish the program, become a journeyman welder and continue working in the school system. I had really good journeymen who showed me the tricks of the trade and teachers that helped me focus on my skills. As time went on, I realized that the time I was dedicating to crafting my skills was actually opening doors for me. I started to see the opportunities. I began working on the weekends, welding on equipment and conveyor systems. I quickly found out that the skills I was acquiring were in great demand by a whole lot of people.
After six and half years, I left the school system as a certified welder and opened my own welding shop in Homestead, FL. It was a small shop behind the house I was living in and I was my only employee, but I prided myself in the quality of work I did and soon the word spread.
Since those early days, I have moved to Gainesville, FL, where I own a fabrication and welding shop that employs 20 people full time and is still growing. I have had the opportunity to work on projects ranging from boiler work in VA hospitals to aluminum work at museums to stairs and rails in apartment complexes in states all over the southeast.
The apprenticeship program provided me a career pathway with life- long skills that have never failed me. I have way more than I ever imagined and have never been out of work. The pride I feel for the work I have completed and the way of life provided for my family makes me thankful every day that I am welder and I help build America.
Who knew I would end up on a BYF trading card?! Doesn’t get any better than that!