Theoretically, finding a job has never been easier. You can find and apply for jobs with your mobile phone as you wait in the drive-thru lane for your eight-piece box of spicy fried chicken. It’s fast and simple.
Realistically, however, getting that job is a bit more complicated. If you include a keyword in the application or resume that trips a red flag in the software system, the hiring manager might never see that resume because an algorithm deemed you unfit for the open position. A human didn’t make that decision; a computer did.
The job search can be doubly hard for those who have been charged with a felony. Even if they have dutifully served their time, these people looking for a second chance have an incredibly difficult time just landing that first job interview.
The doors are a bit more open in the metal fabricating field, however. James Slinkard III has taken full advantage of that crack in the door.
Slinkard grew up in northeast Ohio, taking his first welding classes when he was 16 and later getting a job working on handrails. During his senior year in high school, he found another job fabricating tanker trailers, but he also discovered opiates. The latter proved to have a much greater pull on Slinkard, and some poor choices later led him to be charged with burglary and drug trafficking. As a result, he spent three years in the Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, Ohio.
Halfway through his detention he decided he didn’t want to get high anymore. He was ready to join the land of the living—and the hard-working.
He knew someone who was going to get him work on pipelines when he got out in October 2018. An instant job isn’t a luxury many have coming out of prison, but Slinkard’s welding skill was somewhat responsible for the opportunity. In fact, it was going to be the ticket that propelled him into a roller coaster of opportunities in the ensuing months.
Slinkard said he considered his pipeliner employer a friend, but also realized that they were both “hard heads.” (“He’s one of my best friends, but we can’t work next to each other all day,” Slinkard said.) The working relationship was strained, so Slinkard decided to look for another gig after about a year, ultimately finding one at an asphalt equipment repair company. After some months there, Slinkard said he felt undervalued and finally decided to strike out on his own. He wanted to be in control of his own fate.
In November 2019 Slinkard purchased a 1993 Miller Electric Trailblazer engine-powered welding power source with just over 600 hours on it. It had been sitting in a former co-worker’s storage unit, but was about to find new life in helping Slinkard become reborn as a welding entrepreneur. He paid $2,000 for it and paid it off with his first job. Tiger’s Eye Fabrication LLC was officially in business.
Since then, he’s been doing a little bit of everything, including heavy equipment maintenance on dump trucks and gravel equipment. He’s even done some industrial work for a local aerospace parts manufacturer, building cranes and repairing assembly line equipment. He also sold his original engine-driven welder, along with a similar one he fixed up after acquiring it in a nonfunctioning state, and purchased a Lincoln Electric Ranger 250 engine-powered welding power source. “Yeah, I’m always on Facebook marketplace,” Slinkard said.
So Tiger’s Eye Fabrication is on its way to establishing itself as a business. It has repeat customers, and Slinkard said he is looking into possibly expanding into handrails and fencing, which can be tedious but is a steady stream of work. Actually, running the business has been a bit of the challenge, according to the new business owner, but organizing billing in QuickBooks has helped a bit. Despite the frustrations, he’s glad to be his own guy.
“I make way more money than I did working for someone else. That’s a reward,” Slinkard said. “But it’s also a reward knowing that I did it for myself. I didn’t have anybody else. Nobody else found the jobs for me. Nobody else designed these parts. I did it all by myself.”
That’s the promise of possessing metal fabricating skills: freedom. Freedom from drudgery, freedom from fear that you’ll never find another job, freedom from having to rely on others—that’s a promise that few other trades or vocations can deliver.
Software programs that shuffle through resumes don’t get it, but that’s OK. The metal fabricating community has not given up totally on common sense in favor of artificial intelligence. People still matter, and skills still represent opportunity. The American dream lives on in manufacturing.