Alex Fletcher turned his passion into a paycheck, and he has Tidewater Community College to thank.
“TCC changed my life,” said Fletcher, who finished his Certificate in Welding last summer and will graduate officially on Dec. 19. “If it wasn’t for TCC, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”
The Newport News native and graduate of Woodside High School speculated he might be working in the parts department of a car dealership or managing restaurants, jobs that provided some income but held very little appeal to him.
Instead, he’s a welder at Newport News Shipbuilding – Huntington Ingalls Industries, grateful that he was able to find employment just a few weeks after graduating from TCC.
“I’m getting to build something with my hands that will be around for the next 100 or 150 years,” he said. “Hopefully I will weld something for a ship that will protect this country.”
Alex Fletcher in his own words
Growing up, Fletcher, 32, enjoyed tinkering with racing cars, and his favorite part of cooking was decorating cakes. The intricate nature of both led his wife, LaKeysha to point him toward TCC’s welding program.
He studied on TCC’s Portsmouth Campus under welding instructors Walter Duke and Richard Mims and touts both as excellent.
“They really teach you the things you’re going to need when you get to the job,” he said. “They don’t just show you in the book. They actually teach you.”
“Mr. Fletcher pursued excellence with vigor,” Duke said. “He was willing to practice with purpose, and do so with the idea that he would improve every day.”
Fletcher said his experience at TCC altered more than his career; he’s hoping his teenage son will also follow his lead. “This program changed my life,” he said. “Now I’m trying to get my son into it. I told him you can take welding classes in high school, graduate at 18 and make more than your teachers make. Ten years in, you can make more than I make. It can set up a foundation for later.”
His advice to potential welders is simple: Make sure welding is in your heart. It’s hot, sweaty work that can be dirty. But creating something from nothing brings its own intrinsic rewards, he said.
“If it’s all about the paycheck, it’s not going to work,” Fletcher said. “The paycheck is secondary. I get up in the morning and I’d weld for free just because. You put a welding helmet on, and it’s just you and a piece of metal. There are no bills, there’s no wife, no kids, no taxes. There’s no war. It’s just you and what you can make that metal do for you.”