Gabe Serna, age 19
Upper Valley Career Center Graduate
Second-year Welding Apprentice at Kerber Metal Fabricators
How did you learn about apprenticeship?
I saw the welding program during my freshman year of high school. At the time, I didn’t know much about welding but I decided to check it out through a field trip to UVCC. I talked to the seniors that were there on the field trip and they talked me into it because of how great the teachers and opportunities from knowing how to weld were.
Where do you work and what is your role?
I am a welder and second-year apprentice at Kerber Metal Fabricators. I have multiple responsibilities but I make ovens out of stainless steel, cut figures, weld parts, etc. I also help when big jobs come in by preparing for the jobs. I help put the welder in the right spot and rig them. At first, I wasn’t good at welding but I just kept practicing and started to get much better.
What surprised you most about apprenticeship?
When I heard about going to school and working, I never thought we’d take days off school to work. When I found out I could take 2 weeks off for work and it would count as work and school, I was really excited. This schedule worked well for me and made all my high school friends jealous.
What did it mean to you to receive a paycheck while training?
It was great! At first, I was using this as a way to save up for after graduation, but after being in the union so long I really gained an appreciation for everything they were doing for me and decided to stick with this career.
Why did you choose apprenticeship over the traditional college route?
College sounded great, but I also learned about the skills gap in the trades. I heard that since so many people were going to college for the “office jobs”, fewer people have the skills that are needed for the trades. I was also scared of having debt over my head.
Some of the people I know from school that I keep up with tell me they’re about to make a certain amount of money when they graduate college after all that debt, and it’s not far away from how much I’ll be making as a journeyman. There’s lots of opportunity to learn more in my career and grow into bigger positions.
Would you recommend apprenticeship to your closest friends?
I would – but not many of them understand the value of apprenticeship because of the current skills gap. Everyone gets talked into going to college because they think that’s the only way to be successful. There’s also another gap where people think they would rather be in an office than go out and build things.
What’s the best way to attract more people to apprenticeship?
Taking a stronger approach toward schools. I got to learn a trade that’s useful out of high school, but everyone is so interested in college and people think if you’re “learning a skill” it means you can’t or aren’t going to college. When my college friends tell me they’re struggling with money, changing their majors, or so on, I’m relaxed knowing I don’t have anything like that over my head. I’m always working and progressing. It’s important to get rid of those stigmas and explain to people what apprenticeship really is. I was shown a video about the skills gap, which was really helpful in making my decision. Show the students more numbers and facts, and show the teachers what we’re actually doing in apprenticeship.
What else would you like to tell us about your experience?
Because I was a pre-apprentice, I got to pass the first year of apprenticeship. At my current job, I’m amazed by how much the current journeymen are willing to teach me. I get tons of hours of practice on welding and fabrication of parts (mostly oven and airplane parts). That’s a really cool part of my job.
About Upper Valley Career Center
High School students can begin their career pathway, earn college credits, and begin work in their field – all while remaining active in sports and other activities at their home school. We’ve been the area’s leader in STEM – Career and Technical Education for high school and adult students since 1975.
About Kerber Metal Fabricators
KSM Metal Fabrication (also known as Kerber Sheet Metal) is located in Troy, Ohio (near Dayton). For over 35 years, KSM has been providing quality fabrication services to companies in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.