With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing drawing closer, 37-year-old Heath Ware spent part of Tuesday reflecting on how a NASA initiative more than 15 years ago led him to his current job as a self-employed welder.
“I cut my teeth on welding with the Great Moonbuggy Race in 2003. We built a moon buggy out of T-6 aluminum and a local industry helped us and taught me how to do it then,” said Ware.
He and a team of high schoolers with the Huntsville Center for Technology snagged the award for best design that year. They competed against 29 teams from 10 states in what is now called the Human Exploration Rover Challenge.
That experience came amid a push from his high school counselor toward the skilled trades that started because Ware was somewhat on the old side for a high schooler.
“I would’ve been a 16-year-old freshman in high school. And they were afraid I would not graduate high school, being that I would be almost 19 graduating. They figured I would turn 18 and leave school,” said Ware.
After graduating top of his class, he worked at a pharmaceutical company for several years before stepping out and creating Ware Welding just over a year ago.
“I've never been unemployed, unless by choice, as a skilled tradesman. I've always had a job and a high paying job with skilled trades,” said Ware.
Even so, he decided to go back to school, this time at Drake State Community and Technical College in Huntsville. He's working to get new certifications to make himself even more marketable.
“It's less bewildering because I've actually been in the industry, I've seen how it actually works so you know that your instructors are not, they’re actually telling you what it’s actually going to be like in the real world,” said Ware.
Beyond getting his own certifications, Ware told WAAY 31 that one of the benefits of coming back to school for a second time is being able to use his real-world experience to mentor some of the younger students.
“I'm more of a role model with some of the students cause they’ve come to me and want to know what it’s like in the real world, or ‘Hey, I'm about to graduate. I’ve got my first interview with a skilled trades company. What do I expect?’” said Ware.
He added that encouraging others to stick with the trades is key to their endurance and the benefit of everyone.
“Don't let it die out because guys are retiring. There's plenty of jobs out there and you can almost write your own paycheck with the opportunities that are available to you,” said Ware.
In fact, welders are one of the highest in demand jobs in Alabama with 1345 job openings each year on average, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
“Everything's not run exactly by computers. There are still people who have to get their hands dirty every day and connect the wires, put the rivets in, weld the eye beams and assemble the vehicles,” said Ware.
As for Ware himself, he hopes that after he graduates, he can take his new skills into the industry that inspired him more than a decade ago.
“I would like to get into a subcontract with the aerospace industry. Or I will hopefully go work for an aerospace company and do just as well,” said Ware.
In the meantime, he is using his spring break from Drake State to spend some time with his young son, Connor, and teach him some welding tricks before they both head back to school on Monday.