When Cameron Withrow graduated from Shakopee High School in May 2017, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He was working as a pizza delivery driver to earn some spending cash, but didn’t know what he wanted for a career. Like many others in his class, he felt pressure to go to college.

He enrolled in Normandale Community College with a goal of learning computer animation. While taking prerequisite classes, he quickly discovered that his heart wasn’t in it. As a neighbor pointed out, he was racking up a lot of debt for college when he didn’t even want to be there.

“That flipped a switch and made me think, ‘Why am I spending money on this?’” he said. “On my dad’s side of the family, there are several electricians, so I looked at that, then at plumbing, then also at welding. Making sparks fly and welding things together seemed like a good option.”

His mother works for a company that specializes in erecting steel frames for commercial buildings, so he talked to a welder at the company.

“I liked what he told me,” Withrow said. “But I’ll be honest, the paychecks were something that drew me to welding.”

His calling did turn out to be as a welder. After enrolling at Dakota County Technical College in the fall of 2018 for a nine-month program, he became certified in arc, MIG, and TIG welding.

“I took my mom out to eat to tell her how excited I was to be a welder. It’s great working with my hands. It’s both stimulating and calming,” he said. “It fascinates me that I can make something by welding two pieces together. This is my niche. MIG is definitely my favorite. I like that you can work with a lot of heat, and you can pretty much pull the trigger and go. It was the easiest one for me to pick up. I naturally gravitated toward it.”

He had job offers before he finished his training. He accepted the one from SICO, which is a leading manufacturer of mobile folding products, like cafeteria and buffet tables, in Edina that also has welding robots. Withrow specializes in welding tables and has already received his first raise.

“It’s really nice where I work. We have a lot of fixtures that are put together like a puzzle,” he explains. “You make sure everything is assembled together, in place where it needs to be and clamped down, then I go through and start welding.”

He started out on the first shift, which required getting up at four in the morning to be at work at five. In August, he switched to the second shift. He now works four 10-hour days, then has three-day weekends.

Withrow learned to work hard from his parents. His mother, for example, worked multiple jobs while he was growing up.

“I didn’t like that my mom had to work so hard for me, and I didn’t want to ask her for things,” Withrow said. “I want to lighten the workload on my parents. I’m at a point in my life where I can be independent. I have an appreciation for how hard my parents worked. It definitely helped strengthen my mindset.”

He’s currently saving money for a trip to Walt Disney World with his mother in February and squirreling away money for a down payment on a house.

“When I have a goal of putting money away, I’m very good at it,” he said, adding that welding pays very well. “The money blows my mind. When you come to where I work, the shop guys have nice trucks. I can’t believe how much money is out there in the trades.”

Five years from now, he envisions himself continuing to work in a welding shop. “I want to continue to build a niche. I can see myself being a foreman and helping others,” he said.

Withrow doesn’t have any regrets about his career path.

“It feels like all the choices I’ve been making have been the right ones,” he said. “In high school and when I was at Normandale, I was scared of being stuck. I was scared of investing a lot of money into college, and then being stuck with a lot of debt and still not liking what I was doing. Now I have a job that’s sustainable and I’m propelled down a career path.”

His mother, Angie Withrow, is thrilled that he’s happy with his job.

“He always talked about going into animation since eighth or ninth grade, and I said, ‘If that’s truly the direction you want to go, great,’” she said. “When he chose to go the trade route, I said, ‘What’s your plan?’ When he told me, I said, ‘Go for it. It’s probably a much better path for you.’ I see him happy, and that’s what’s important. When he was at Normandale, I never saw him open a book. When he started welding, he always had a welding book open. This is definitely a much better path for him.”

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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