TEXAS CITY — For Keith Harrington, a fresh start took just 12 weeks.
Coming to College of the Mainland to take two six-week welding courses, Harrington, a former plumber and construction worker, discovered at last a career he could enjoy for the rest of his life.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to college,” said Harrington, 45, of San Leon. “I caught on pretty quick. I learned how to MiG and flux (weld) in seven days. After 12 weeks, I knew I could do this.”
It proved a second chance for Harrington, who holds two nonviolent felony convictions.
Though he has not yet completed COM’s four certificates, he has passed an industry welding test. He’s thrilled to make $1,000 a week working at Woven Metal Products in Alvin, welding various types of reactors used in industry.
COM welding professor Doc Miller has seen many such transformations in his years of teaching.
“Students come, learn a skill and go from a minimum-wage job to good-paying job,” Miller said. “It changes people’s lives.”
A booming industry, welding provides a second chance for students of all backgrounds.
“This is the right time for anybody to get in the field,” Miller said. “Some of the best welders in the world come to the Gulf Coast because there are so many jobs. More companies call us looking for qualified students than we have students.”
Harrington, though now employed, has determined to earn all certificates COM offers — entry-level welding, entry-level gas shielded pipe welding and entry-level shielded metal arc pipe welding — and expand his skills.
“I’m trying to get more consistent,” he said. “The weld will tell on you every time. (A correct weld) looks like you just bent a piece of metal. If you don’t do it correctly, it cracks or shows stress every time.”
Harrington learned through textbooks, hands-on instruction and as many hours practicing in the lab as he wanted.
“I’m old. I struggled a little bit,” Harrington said. “As long as you’re paying attention, you can do it. You do bookwork, (instructors) show you and then you keep doing it until they tell you (that) you did it right.”
Many students such as Harrington qualify for financial aid. COM is an approved vendor to provide vocational training for eligible participants under the federal Workforce Investment Act. Qualifying individuals can receive free tuition, fees and books.
Working with instructors Miller, Rico Brown and Victor Woods, Harrington has found his niche.
“They taught me so much. I’d have never been able to get a welding job if I hadn’t come in here,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of jobs. … (Welding)’s going to be my final one, though.”