Powering Up: Apprentice Certifications Show Employee Development

Welders have a lot to learn. There’s various techniques, each offering their own challenges, before even considering the plethora of materials one can weld. All in all, there might be 100 certifications in pipe welding mastery alone. Before you know it, a couple of apprentices at F&S will have learned a bunch of them!

Utilities pipefitters apprentice Brandon Lovett received two United Association (UA) Pipe Welding Certificates before finishing his second year of apprenticeship and taking a third test soon. Carey Kaeding, a current F&S pipefitter apprentice, also has received four pipe welding certifications so far, with more planned soon, too.

Pipefitters, including on utilities systems, maintain the many complicated resource, energy, and power systems at Abbott Power Plant and everywhere pipes can be found on campus.

“I looked at it as a challenge,” said Kaeding. “I come from a welding background and feel comfortable doing easy welding. The more difficult welding is pipe welding and I have got to have certifications. It will help me with my career.”

Lovett used a 180-degree career change to find his familial roots in welding. Once he committed to the trades, it was time to improve his skills.

“I take these tests and pass these certifications and view that as it makes you more valuable to your employer,” Lovett said. “I am just one of those types of people, who if I’m going to do it, I’m going to be good.”

Supervisors of the two men recognize and appreciate seeing hard, extra work.

“Compared to most apprentices, they are way ahead of where they should be,” said Jason Hart, utilities pipefitters foreperson. “A lot of apprentices don’t get certifications at all. A lot of that comes from their willingness to go to class and do extra classes and on the job training. They are both doing a really good job.”

Employee development is an emphasis in the F&S Strategic Plan 2019-2023: Foundations for the Future, listed as the first point for the first theme (People). Measures are in place to allow the best chance for training and leadership skills, but employees must take the initiative. To their credit, Lovett and Kaeding have sacrificed their time to grow their knowledge base.

Said Doug Winkler, pipefitters foreperson, who oversees Kaeding: “the certifications are for the stuff we are going to do every day. So, these are skills that will take care of him for the rest of his life.”

How I Got Started: Carey Kaeding

“My neighbor owned a fabrication shop, and by the time I was 12 or 13, I was working for him, pushing brooms or whatever small stuff he had. He is kind of the guy who helped get me curious about welding. In high school, I took classes up at the Kankakee Area Career Center and after graduation segued into jobs similar to welding. After jobs in Illinois and California in maintenance and pipefitting, I came back and eventually got an apprenticeship with the UA Local 149.”

“It’s a good career. Rewarding if you like to work with your hands. You get put on projects, you see them from start to finish, the progression, ad all the hard work of making some of these systems work.”

How I Got Started: Brandon Lovett

“I actually graduated from the U of I in exercise science, and was looking into medical profession. I did that for a few years, and I figured out it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. My dad was a machinist his whole life; my grandfather was a pipefitter in the UA Local 149. It was almost ‘in my blood;’ I was around it a lot. I just did a complete flip of gears to do something else. The union offers good pay, the focus is on safety, we care about members having good quality hours, and time to spend with family. It all attracted me to the trades.”