Tales of the Trades shares just some of the millions of stories in the skilled industrial trades, shining a bright light on the hard-working tradesmen and women who build, operate and maintain the world we live in. We also focus on the individuals and organizations working hard to advance industrial sectors and ensure their success over the coming decades.
Today, we turn the spotlight on Alex Shaw. Small town born and raised, Alex is a skilled welder, artist, and general Jack-of-all-Trades. He joins us to talk about starting off his career and his hopes for the future of his art.
What’s your story?
I’m from Nebraska, and I’ve been here my whole life. I’m about three hours to the southwest of Omaha in a small town called Holstein. I’m a full time welder, and I do art part time on the side.
How did you get into welding?
I got into welding after I got out of school. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do and then my dad suggested that I should do welding because he said it was a good career to get into, and I could also use the skill for my art. So I pursued it and then I got hired on where I work now as a TIG welder.
Where do you work now? What do you do in your nine to five?
I work for Midlands Mechanical. I’m a welder but we also do a lot of other things. We’re a mechanical contractor. We go around to different jobs like schools and colleges and hospitals. We work on their mechanical systems HVAC, piping, and plumbing.
How did you get the skills that you needed in order to get your job?
I took a two-year program for welding at college. But most of the skills that I learned came from the on-the-job training in the position I have now.
In addition to being a welder, you’re also an artist, correct?
Yes, I did a lot of sketching and drawing growing up and then did a lot of painting as well.
I kind of just kind of combined the two into sculptures, and I have been doing a lot of sculpting lately.
Is that something that you are thinking of growing into a career on its own?
I like it as a hobby, definitely. I could maybe foresee creating a full time career out of my art. That would be kind of cool.
If you had a magic wand, what would your career look like?
I would like to help other artists, welders, and creators, to show them that they have the ability to create and help them hone their own skills. I would also like to make something big for my town, like a big sculpture or other form of public art. It’d be kind of fun.
What advice would you give to a young person looking to work with their hands and pursue a great career in the trades?
Lean into your own skill. Everybody has a talent of their own, and to really kind of lean into it and feel out what works best for you.
Also, find somebody that will help you to hone those skills. I had people who helped me to have access to create. I didn’t have a welding machine when I first started out, but my old neighbor and family friend let me come over to the shop whenever I wanted to use his equipment. That really helped out a lot with me making sculptures and gaining experience.
When I think through examples like that, I see how easy it is to find opportunities and also to give other people little opportunities, and that’s really rewarding.
What do the trades mean to you?
I think they’re very important. Before I became a welder, I was a CNA for many years. As a CNA, I took care of patients. I never really gave a second thought to what all went into things such as a building to make it work to take care of those people to make them comfortable.
Now being on the other side of it in the trades, I know what goes into a room to make the resident comfortable like air conditioning, giving them water, and helping them in a behind-the curtains-way.
It’s been eye opening for all of us at my company to just realize how every single thing you touch, everything single thing you make, or you use — your car, your house, your plumbing, from brushing your teeth in the morning to getting into your bed at night, everything has been made by somebody and has been touched touched by a tradesperson.
What’s the best advice that you’ve gotten during your career path?
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I hear that a lot and that’s been pretty good advice. If I’m working on a particular piece and I know that an imperfection or mistake is not gonna make or break it, I try not to worry about it.
Or with work, if I have a particular weld, that’s kind of difficult to get to, because you get into some very, very difficult places. I still try my very best to make it look as good as possible, but just let go of the small things as long as it works.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to paint and sculpt in my free time when I’m not working. Lately, it’s been a lot of metal, but I’m hoping to branch out a little bit from metal and combine metal and paint in a new way.
Our thanks to Alex Shaw for making time to share his story and industry insights with us.
Photo credits: Alex Shaw