Alex Shade Went from High School to a Full-Time Apprenticeship – and He’s Loving Every Minute of It

Alex Shade didn’t plan to have a career in the construction industry. Like many high school students, he just assumed he would attend college, then figure out what to do next.

But a welding program changed the course of his young life. By the time he graduated from Augusta’s Cross Creek High in May 2019, he had secured a paid apprenticeship with Gold Mech, a full-service mechanical contractor. And he’s having more fun than he ever had in a classroom.

“In high school, it’s books, books, books – everything you need to know is in this book,” Alex says. “I can’t pick up a book and learn; I have to do it. So if you’re like me, this is a lot more fun. If you’re a person who’s hands-on, this is a good job for you.”

Alex initially was interested in culinary arts, a discipline he pursued at Richmond County Technical Magnet School. He moved with his family to Kuwait, where he continued to explore various interests until his father challenged him one day. As he recalls:

“My dad came home and while talking over dinner, he asked me, ‘Son, what is it that you want to be? You’re good at football, cooking, this and that,’ and I was puzzled. I wanted to do so much, but I couldn’t make a decision. Then he mentioned welding. At first I didn’t think it was something I wanted to do, but after researching it and watching some videos, I was inspired.”

Alex’s family eventually moved back to Augusta, where he made the connection that turned into a full-time job.

“I was in class one day and they were like, ‘We need three students [for] an interview,’” Alex remembers. Not knowing exactly what he was getting into, Alex met with Gold Mech Apprenticeship Director Ben McGhee (pictured above with Alex). Weeks later, he says, a care package arrived with instructions to report to work on June 10.

“I was like, “Oh, I actually have a job,” Alex says with a laugh.

Since then Alex has worked on several high-profile projects around Augusta, including a renovation of the 2,800-seat Bell Auditorium. He has found everything about the job gratifying, from the process of building to seeing the results at the end.

“Being a welder and plumber assistant isn’t all that easy,” he says. “But when you do it right, it feels good. I enjoy being a team member. The individual commitment to a group effort is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work and a civilization work.”

For McGhee, the payoff comes in seeing young people such as Alex succeed.

“You have to invest in them,” McGhee says. “You have to actually take the time to teach them, to try to mold them to be the best. To see them solder copper and they first time they’re shaking and a little nervous, and then to finally see them settle down and actually do it, that’s what I love the most.”

As Alex’s story illustrates, college is not a prerequisite to a successful career. Opportunities abound for high school graduates with an interest in the skilled trades and the motivation to get right to work.

“Every plumber that we have graduated from an apprenticeship program is a superintendent at Gold Mech,” McGee says. “We figured up, it’s $150,000 for four years – that’s what you will make in our apprenticeship program. Either you can make $150,000 or you can pay whatever college costs per year.”

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