From nursing to welding: Heather’s story earning a FastForward credential

Going back to school to earn a credential while being a mother to three young children is no easy feat. But for Heather Owens, she was determined to find a new career path after briefly working as a nurse during the onset of COVID-19. The grueling hours, overflowing patient beds and extended time away from home put being a mother on the backburner, and Owens needed a career that would allow her to have plenty of time at home while also providing a solid paycheck for her family.

Welding satisfied her needs, and the opportunity to go back to school to earn a welding credential at Southwest Virginia Community College (SVCC) came her way when she bumped into a former classmate who was working as a welder in town. After a short conversation, Owens enrolled at SVCC to begin her journey.

Opportunity to start fresh

Owens said the opportunity to do something new and different excited her and brought renewed energy to her career path. Supportive instructors at SVCC became the icing on the cake, especially because she had never welded before.

“I had never even touched a welder, and by the time I completed my college courses, I had a job in a couple of weeks, and I wasn’t bad at it,” Owens added with a smile. “Everybody that was there, including the teachers, was great. They were super helpful. The whole experience was great.”

While supportive instructors go a long way, Owens added that hands on learning helped her dive into the industry and learn quickly.

“The instructors are great with hands-on tips and pointers. They show you how to do different things. It makes it a lot easier, just the fact that the instructors are so involved in helping. It makes it a lot less intimidating,” Owens said. “You can watch them do it, and then you’re like OK, now I see how I can do this a little differently.”

Pressure perfect

After going through her FastForward training, Owens got a job offer at Samuel Pressure Vessel Group, which produces some of the world’s highest quality pressure systems. If a pressure system or “vessel” is new to your vocabulary, Owens said the easiest way to understand her job is that she welds fittings onto pipes and different kinds of pressure tanks, such as oxygen and propane tanks.

More of a visual learner? See a photo of Owens’ work below.


When asked if she enjoys her job, she said she loves it. “I love getting to see the final product because it’s something that you’re building yourself.”

Advice for new students

Still not sure if welding is right for you? Owens said that interested students should branch out of their comfort zone and give it shot.

“Going through the training gives you a chance to see if it’s something that you actually want to pursue. You can make it a hobby if you didn’t want to turn it into an actual career. Welding is a lot of fun. It’s something different,” she said. “It can definitely be intimidating. But, after you get into the classroom, meet your instructors and they start walking you through how things are going to go, it’s really not as hard as you make yourself seem.”

Being a welder also comes with a few perks, including having the skills to create all sorts of DIY projects at home. For Owens, that includes welding a horse trailer so she can continue to transport her horses into the beautiful trails up in the Appalachian Mountains near her home.

Are you ready to weld your first pipe onto a pressurized tank? Get started today by talking to a career coach at your nearest community college. Click here to learn more.

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