After graduating from high school, Eugene Barksdale pursued a career in construction. Although he could find jobs, he found that without formal training or industry certifications he wasn’t able to establish a career. Barksdale bounced from job to job with no security for his income or future. By 2016, he was ready for a change.
“I was tired of jumping from job to job. I wanted a trade—something that would always be with me,” he said.”
After hearing about the Welding@SVHEC program from several people, Barksdale decided to take a step towards gaining the skills and certifications he needed for a rewarding career. “At first I was thinking that it would be too hard to complete, but I kept telling myself it’s now or never. I was ready for a change,” he said.
Barksdale worked closely with Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) staff to complete the enrollment process and start the Welding@SVHEC program in November 2016. The SVHEC’s welding program provides short-term, hands-on training in MIG, TIG, Stick, and Pipe welding. After learning welding basics and safety fundamentals, trainees spend 80% of their time in the welding lab.
“At first it was hard—I felt like I was using parts of my brain I’d forgotten about,” Barksdale says with his characteristic smile. “But after a while I saw that I could do this, and I wondered why I hadn’t started sooner,” he said.
Barksdale quickly established himself as a dedicated student, and classroom leader who was always willing to lend a helping hand to his fellow trainees. “From day one, you could tell Eugene was here to learn. He was the guy that would always read ahead and wasn’t shy about asking questions,” said Geoff Vaughan, Welding@SVHEC Program Leader.
Just as everything was falling into place for Barksdale, tragedy struck when a serious car accident nearly took his mother’s life. Eugene Barksdale’s world was turned upside down as he rushed to his mother’s side and became one of her primary caregivers. With every reason to give up, he pushed harder to attend class and complete his assignments.
“Eugene is ‘old school’ and he has the ‘old school’ work ethic that you rarely see today. He was here to work and to better himself and he didn’t let anything stop him,” Vaughan stated.
“I promised myself that I wasn’t going to stop. I’ve started a lot of things and not finished, but I told myself I wasn’t going to stop this time. Since I’ve been at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center the people here have become like family. I feel like I’ve known them for years. Just knowing that someone has faith in you is a great thing, and really boosts your confidence,” Barksdale said.
These days things are looking much brighter for Barksdale. His mother’s recovery is going well, he recently completed his welding training, and he’s looking forward to finding a welding position at a local company.
“Before the Welding program I’d say I had a 50-50 chance of getting a job because I didn’t have any skills and I wasn’t certified. Now, I have experience and certifications, and I’m looking forward to an opportunity to get out there and work. For anyone thinking of coming to school or learning a trade I would say go for it. Don’t sit and wait for tomorrow go for it today,” Barksdale said.
The SVHEC will recognize Eugene Barksdale and all Welding@SVHEC and IT Academy program completers at the Workforce Training Completion Ceremony on June 7th. For more information on Welding@SVHEC or the SVHEC’s other hands-on training programs visit www.svhec.org/workforce.