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Mentor mentality

Three Excellence in Welding award recipients are proof positive that the next generation of welders is in good hands

The month of April serves as a major turning point in the year – the days are longer, the weather is warmer and the spring season is finally taking root. April is also National Welding Month, which was established by the American Welding Society (AWS) in 1996 to recognize those in the welding industry and to shed light on the career opportunities that the industry offers.

Coastal Welding Supply Inc. was presented with the Excellence in Welding award in the distributor category in 2019. Shown here from left to right are Mike Tecklenburg, WEMCO Excellence in Welding Awards chairman; Chuck Mazoch, Coastal’s president; Barbara Mazoch Nelson, Chuck’s sister and Coastal’s assets manager; and Eric Laubach, past WEMCO chairman.

“[It’s] an annual opportunity for the welding profession to show the world that we are more than torches and sparks,” said Stephanie Hoffman-Wedding, program manager workforce development for the AWS Foundation, in a recent press release. “Welders have to understand shop mechanics, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, physics, chemistry and metallurgy. The more technological advances our industry undergoes, the more skills and knowledge we need to do our jobs successfully.”

Awards season

The next generation of welders is still taking shape: As most in the industry know, there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of positions available to fill today and in the future. And that need isn’t slated to diminish over time or as technologies grow. There will always be a need for a person to either hold an actual welding torch or program a robot to perform the weld. Equally, there will always be a need for someone to instill those skills in the industry’s up and comers.

The Welding Equipment Manufacturing Committee (WEMCO), an arm of AWS, has made it a point to celebrate the individuals that are instilling the skills – and the passion – that the next generation of welders will need to succeed. WEMCO’s Excellence in Welding awards showcase these key people and anyone who truly takes on the charge of lifting up the image of welding and promoting the industry in their communities.

To celebrate National Welding Month, Welding Productivity is proud to honor three individuals that have been presented with an Excellence in Welding award and, in turn, are preparing the next generation of welders for prosperous careers.

Family tradition

Chuck Mazoch is the president of Coastal Welding Supply Inc., an industrial and specialty gas supply company that his father, Al, founded in 1963. He is also the torchbearer of the company culture that his father established. When Mazoch is asked about his father’s legacy, he first and foremost describes him as a teacher.

“When he passed in 2009, I felt like we needed to carry on his passion for teaching,” Mazoch says. “He came up in the industry in the early 1960s when a lot of new technologies were emerging, so as part of his selling skills, he would go out into the industry and teach people about all of these new and exciting things that could increase their quality and productivity and make them more competitive. We set up a scholarship in his name at the Lamar Institute of Technology. That kind of started it all.”

Since then, Mazoch and the Coastal team have dedicated substantial time, effort and resources to promoting welding as a viable, good-paying career. In addition to the scholarship for the Lamar Institute of Technology, Coastal contributes to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholarship Fund.

Lyle Palm is the chief academic officer at Workshops for Warriors and the recipient of the Excellence in Welding award in the veterans category in 2015.

Along the way, the Coastal team continues Al’s approach of educating customers about new technologies that are coming into the marketplace. They also leverage their social media platforms and even partner with local radio and television stations to create educational campaigns to encourage young people to consider welding as a career path.   

When Coastal won the Excellence in Welding award in 2019 in the distributor category, Mazoch’s father was on his mind, but so were all of the young Texans that he and Coastal have supported and will support in the years to come.

“It’s critical that people know how important a welder is and how important it is to get kids excited to be a welder,” he says. “There’s a tremendous demand, and welding is an important part of our future. We’ve got to get these kids educated, get them on the job sites and keep this economy rolling.”

Since the company’s founding more than 60 years ago, Coastal has evolved from a single-source location to becoming the largest, independently family-owned welding and specialty gas distributor in the Texas Gulf Coast region with 10 locations throughout southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Moving forward, the Coastal team will continue to support area high schools, colleges and welding schools with equipment demonstrations, instructor seminars, welding competition judging and memberships in AWS area chapters.

Lifetime commitment

Lyle Palm, the chief academic officer at Workshops for Warriors (WFW), has spent his entire life in welding – during his 20 years in the U.S. Navy and for the nearly 20 years since in retirement, where he has been passing on his skills to veterans, teaching them to weld and helping them land great jobs.

Tom Kostreba, the 2019 Excellence in Welding award winner in the individual category, spends the bulk of his free time traveling the country consulting companies and mentoring students, like those at Central Tech Career & Technical School in Erie, Pa.

Having shown exemplary dedication to promoting the image of welding to his community of servicemen and women and veterans, he received the Excellence in Welding award in the veterans category in 2015. Palm was incredibly honored to be recognized, but, truly, he couldn’t imagine living his life any other way.

“I love the mission of WFW – giving veterans a successful path to take in civilian life – and that’s what we do every day,” he says. “So, I’m doing my part for WFW and our students, but I’m also doing my part for our country. I see the potential we have to get our country back on track with skills like welding and machining.”

Palm first learned to weld in high school in 1977. In the 1970s and early 1980s, votec programs, like welding, were the norm across the United States.

“I feel fortunate that I was exposed to welding at an early age,” Palm says. “I tried to go to college, but I kept gravitating back to welding. I earned a certificate in welding at a one-year program where I grew up in northern Minnesota and immediately after, I enlisted in the Navy with the plan of learning to weld even better.”

In the Navy, he spent a year in welding school and then continued as a nuclear power plant component welder. He also earned his bachelor’s degree while in the military, majoring in education with a plan to teach adults after retiring.

“Life had different plans, though, and my brother and I started a welding fabrication business in 2001, which we ran for about 10 years,” Palm explains. “Around 2010 when we were downsizing our business, I ran into Hernán Luis y Prado, the founder and CEO of WFW, and donated a lot of my equipment to the school. Around the same time, I started teaching for the Navy at Camp Pendleton and was working toward a master’s degree, which I ultimately earned in 2012.”

The following year, while Palm was still teaching at Camp Pendleton during the day, WFW recruited him to take over the evening welding program, meaning he was teaching adults – which had always been his post-military plan – from sun up until sun down. Palm held this schedule for several years, but as he took on more roles at WFW, he knew his time with the Navy had to come to a close again.

“I came to WFW because I understood the mission from the get-go,” Palm says. “We need to get our young men and women back to work after they’ve served. We all know they have great work ethics and work well in teams. That’s why picking men and women from the military to fill open positions should be an easy decision for employers. All we have to do is provide them the training and certifications they need, and I’m honored that I get to do that every day.”

In addition to Palm’s Excellence in Welding award in the veterans category, WFW earned the award in the educational facility category the same year. Recently, WFW announced a major expansion at its San Diego headquarters, which aims to accommodate 10 times the number of veteran students the school currently serves.

Paying it forward

Tom Kostreba, the 2019 Excellence in Welding award recipient in the highly competitive individual category, has almost too many titles to list. He is a locomotive test technician at Wabtec Corp., which produces locomotive products; a welding educator at the Regional Career and Technical Center in Erie, Pa.; a welding and welding codes instructor at EPCI University; and he is the founder of his own business, Kostreba Inspection and Training, where he serves as a weld inspector, trainer and consultant. He is an AWS certified welding inspector (CWI) and an active AWS member.

“My whole life, I‘ve worked for companies like General Electric [which is now Wabtec], building locomotives,” Kostreba explains, “but I always had a side business where I was training people. When I got my CWI, I really ramped up the frequency of my side jobs, helping companies get on track by providing them with training to carry out their work correctly and working with them to lay out the right codes for their welding jobs.”

Kostreba works the third shift at his full-time job to be able to work his side jobs during the day. He also uses all of his vacation time from his full-time job to travel the country, participating in roundtables, giving lectures, consulting with clients, doing hands-on welding demonstrations and paying visits to welding equipment manufacturers to learn about the new technologies that are coming down the pipeline.

“The big equipment manufacturers put a lot of resources into pushing the trade of welding, which is great,” he says. “They shine a lot of light onto the welding industry, inspiring people to seriously consider welding as a career path.”   

Kostreba also credits AWS for lifting up the welding industry and says that his own career wouldn’t be what it is without the organization. The networking alone had a big impact on the success of his business.

“Reflecting on the 20 years that I’ve been a member of AWS – the places they’ve sent me and the people I’ve met – has been amazing,” he says. “The jobs that I’ve earned from the people I’ve met keep paying me back tenfold. The AWS organization creates a big family atmosphere where we help each other out. Having people that we can reach out to and rely on to learn something new or even just find work is invaluable.”

He describes the welding community as a big brotherhood. And he says that he’s constantly looking to bring more people into the fold.

“It takes a unique person to be under a hood all day,” he says, “but we can’t do everything by ourselves if we want to take our careers to the next level. People helped me get where I’m at today, and I want to pay it forward whenever I can. It’s amazing to see students find something that they like to do, follow through with it, and establish a good job and a great future. It’s really rewarding.”

Nominations for the 2020 Excellence in Welding Awards are open through June, and the awards will be presented during Fabtech 2020. To nominate someone making an impact in the industry, this online form is available.

American Welding Society

Coastal Welding Supply Inc.

The Welding Equipment Manufacturing Committee

Workshops for Warriors

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