Doing Great Things

Boosted by a Chorus of Encouraging Voices, Lauren “LJ” Jones is Thriving as a Welding Apprentice

A snack machine is an unlikely recruiting tool, but that’s exactly what got Lauren Jones’ attention with regard to a career path in the skilled trades.

Lauren, who goes by “LJ,” was a student at Gwinnett County’s Archer High School and Maxwell High School of Technology, but she wasn’t exactly enamored with healthcare, her initial program of choice at Maxwell. She did, however, enjoy break time. One day a glance at a vending machine turned into a closer look, leading LJ to note that “welding looks pretty cool.”

“I said, ‘I want to try it,’” she recalls. “It was just a passing thought. But [later] I said, ‘I’m going to try it. I don’t normally make decisions like that, but it was a very, very good decision.”

It certainly was. After enrolling in instructor Charles “Coach K” Kachmar’s welding program for her senior year, LJ graduated in spring of 2023, and she’s now well on her way to a lucrative welding career. She began an apprenticeship with McKenney’s, Inc., in August of ’23, joined UA Local 72 in October, and is studying to be a certified pipefitter through Local 72’s Mechanical Trades Institute (MTI) in Fulton County.

Kachmar’s program, she says, “was a great introduction to the trade. You get to see all three main processes that are used [in welding], and you get certifications. It does a whole lot for you when you’re going out into the workforce if [employers] see that you have an introduction and that you have a drive to want to do it.”

LJ’s introduction to McKenney’s came at the SkillsUSA State Championships, where she was part of a team that built and entered a Korean BBQ grill table in the Metal Works competition. Another Gwinnett County instructor, Patrick Mahaffey, encouraged her to check out the McKenney’s booth at the adjacent Construction Ready CareerExpo. She picks up the story here:

“At first I was kind of like, ‘I don’t really like putting myself out there.’ But I had met another girl that I was really cool with, and I said, ‘You know what, let’s go over there.’ She said, ‘OK,’ so we went over there. And they had a little flux core welding machine. I was like, ‘I know how to flux core weld,’ and she said, ‘Go do it.’ So I did, and my weld came out pretty solid. I mean, it wasn’t a great weld, but it was pretty solid weld. And they said, ‘We would like you to come work with us.’ So I gave them my resume and we exchanged information. When I got the offer, I was so excited. That was literally one of the best days of my life.”

The demand for welders, both statewide and nationally, is great, virtually guaranteeing LJ a well-paying job as her career progresses. In fact, even as an apprentice, she’s paid handsomely.

“Most people my age aren’t making this much a week,” she says. “I have a set job that I can work overtime for. I’m about to buy my first car. It’s really, really nice.”

LJ’s earning potential also will grow as a result of her training at MTI. She first learned about that opportunity when Bob Bradley of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Georgia spoke to her class at Maxwell.

“At first I wasn’t really interested, because I was like, ‘Oh, I just want to weld,’” she remembers. “But if you know how to pipe fit, you are very valuable. [Bradley explained that] ‘not every welder is a fitter, but every fitter is a welder.’ When I looked at the potential earnings, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is cool.’”

LJ is quick to credit the influential figures in her development, from Bradley and Kachmar to various encouragers she meets through her work at McKenney’s. One co-worker went above and beyond the call of duty for her, and she’s determined to validate that investment.

She explains: “When I had just started working there, I would stay over and work overtime – for the hours and money, but also for the experience. One of the guys there would talk to me and help me see different things. I really needed a new hood, and one day he gave me a practically brand-new, five-hundred-dollar hood. He just gave it to me, and he said, ‘Go do great things.’

And I said, ‘OK.’ And I’ve been trying to do great things ever since.’”

Copyright © 2024 Construction Ready. All Rights Reserved.

Construction Ready is a registered 501(c)(3). Our EIN is 58-2062862.