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  • Writer's pictureDavid Bierwirth

From Carpenter to Welding Instructor: A Winding Career Path


Josh and student.
Josh O'Neil and Student who just gained employment.

1. Career Journey and Transition

Joshua's path from a framing carpenter to a heavy mobile diesel mechanic and eventually a welding instructor was anything but linear. It evolved as the economy and opportunities changed over the years.

His journey began in 1998 when he met a carpenter who owned a gym and hired Joshua as a helper. The flexible hours and hands-on work appealed to the young and strong Joshua, kickstarting his career in construction.

However, the 2007-2008 economic downturn dried up construction opportunities. Joshua pivoted to working at a NAPA auto parts store, obtaining his ASE certification. His networking skills landed him a mechanic helper position at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in 2009, sparking his love for being a mechanic.

Another layoff in December 2009 led Joshua to embark on a new path as a heavy mobile diesel mechanic contractor, learning hydraulics systems through supportive mentors. His perseverance opened doors at Rio Tinto's Borax Mine in 2011, following in his father's footsteps.

2. Discovering a Passion for Welding

During a project re-skinning haul truck beds in 2015, Joshua fell in love with welding. The solitude, complex work, and ability to immerse himself in music resonated with him. Despite initial resistance from the company, he took welding classes at a community college, working graveyard shifts to practice.

Joshua's drive to learn and provide a better product eventually led him to a utility maintenance role with more flexible hours, allowing him to become a full-time student. He earned multiple associate degrees, including one in welding technology, and a bachelor's degree in social psychology.

3. Transition to Welding Instructor

In January 2019, the dean of the CTE department offered Joshua a part-time welding instructor position, which he gladly accepted. Teaching ignited a new passion, prompting him to pursue a master's degree to strengthen his credentials.

Motivated by his son's terminal condition, Joshua took a significant pay cut to become a high school welding instructor in 2019, allowing him to be closer to home. He continued teaching at the college, obtained his CWI credential, and navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, a lucrative offer from Riverside County Office of Education prompted another career move, where Joshua excelled in rebuilding the welding program. His success paved the way for a return to his alma mater as a district employee in 2022, while also authoring a new welding curriculum for a local community college.

4. Teaching Approach and Industry Experience

Joshua's extensive industrial experience deeply influences his teaching approach. Having faced both supportive and unsupportive mentors, he strives to be an open book, actively demonstrating techniques and sharing knowledge freely.

His hands-on experience complements his academic achievements, including a master's degree in Organizational Leadership and a current pursuit of a doctorate in educational leadership. Joshua sees continuous learning as an investment in delivering a high-quality product to his students.

5. Community Involvement and Impact

Collaborating with the local community is crucial for Joshua. He has fostered partnerships with industries, suppliers, and organizations like the American Welding Society and NCCER. These connections enhance employment opportunities for graduates and ensure his programs remain relevant.

Joshua's adult welding programs have yielded remarkable success stories, helping individuals from diverse backgrounds, including women, undocumented students, and those with criminal records, find meaningful employment.

6. Personal Development and Future Goals

Staying updated on the latest welding trends and advancements is a priority for Joshua. He actively engages in professional development, attends training programs, and maintains memberships in professional organizations.

With his doctoral pursuit in educational leadership, Joshua envisions bridging the gap between the trades world and the education sector. His goal is to enhance the development of future tradesmen and women, potentially contributing to improved legislation for career technical education programs.

7. Challenges and Solutions

Like any educator, Joshua has faced challenges in his career. Initially, he struggled with disengaged students, taking their lack of interest personally. However, a seasoned instructor's advice on documentation and providing clean slates helped Joshua maintain his sanity and address issues effectively.

To cater to diverse learning styles, Joshua builds individual relationships with his students, employing differentiated teaching strategies. He finds ways to connect with each learner, ensuring everyone walks away with valuable knowledge, even if they don't pursue welding as a career.

Joshua's journey from carpenter to welding instructor is a testament to his adaptability, perseverance, and passion for continuous learning. His industry experience, academic achievements, and commitment to community collaboration have shaped him into an exceptional educator, paving the way for future generations of skilled tradesmen and women.




Student and Joshua
Josh leading by hand on example.

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