New VSRA member—and proud sponsor of the 2020 Tradesperson of the Year awards—Surehand, Inc. is deeply committed to reducing labor shortages and un/underemployment in the skilled trades. In addition to our unlimited hiring platform that instantly matches industrial employers with skilled tradespeople, we also "turn the camera around" and focus on the hardworking tradesmen and women who build, operate and maintain the world in which we live. It is our privilege to share their stories, tips and tricks and highlight how working in the trades has changed their lives for the better.
We recently had the honor to shine the spotlight on the Junior and Senior Tradesperson of the Year award winners, Danual Pearce of Colonna's Shipyard, Inc. and Heng Hy of BAE Systems.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Heng: I have been working for BAE for 15 years. I started welding in 1983 and just kept working to support my family.
Danual: I am a native of Norfolk, Virginia, so I was born and raised here my whole life. I graduated from Atlantic Shores Christian school, did my college at Howard University in Washington, DC. I came back here and started in the shipyard with Colonna's Shipyard, Inc. about 6 years ago. I started as a helper, but was laid off, and then the opportunity to join the apprenticeship program came up and I jumped on it. Five years later, I’m a graduate, a supervisor, and Junior Tradesman of the Year.
Why were you nominated to receive the Senior Tradesperson of the Year award?
Heng: I started BAE in 2006 and before that I was with a couple of other companies. I do my best to help and support the company. I do quality work for the company and the customer. I work on Navy boats and support the country and I am very serious about my job. My priority is “safety first.” I make sure everything is safe before we start to do anything. I remind my crew to be aware of what is around them. The same as when you drive a car. We try our best to prevent accidents, but sometimes accidents look for you, so we are always aware and alert.
How did you get your start in the trades?
Danual: Being around this area, there are a lot of shipyards and there is a lot of work in the shipyards. I was just trying to find something to provide and take care of my family and that was the best option I had. I was just trying to get my foot in the door. I had heard about rigging and once I got in there, I started to take a liking to it. From there it just took off. I excelled at a variety of things as far as rigging and I moved up quick. As soon as I graduated from my apprenticeship, I moved into a Lead Supervisor role and that is where I am at right now.
What do you do specifically and what do you like most about your job?
Danual: On a day-to-day basis as far as rigging, we deal with a lot of cranes, we do a lot of movements in the yards. Of course, we can deal with things anywhere from 50 to 50,000 lbs. A lot of times we get to jobs and other trades ask, “how are you guys going to get this out?!” and I like the fact that, once we get there as far as rigging, you do a lot of jobs multiple times, but also a lot of jobs that you are going to see for the first time. In my five years here, I am still seeing new jobs as the years go on. Aboard vessels we do a lot of rigging and moving things like computer cabinets, valves, things of that nature. Today we had a valve that was in the ballast tank all the way down in the fifth deck, so we are the ones who have got to rig it all the way from the bottom of the fifth deck and out of the ship to where it needs to go to be worked on. That valve was about three inches wide, weighed about 250 lbs. and we had probably 3.5 feet of clearance to make it through the manhole. It is a lot of precision work with very big things.
Heng, I read that you have continued to learn throughout your career and have continued your education to become a highly skilled aluminum welder. What drives your passion to learn more?
Heng: Learning never ends. The more you learn, the more you know, the more you understand. You are always open to more learning and experiences.
Danual, what did you major in at Howard University and do you feel that your education helped you excel in your current position?
Danual: I went for business management and I did take some management classes, so I do feel like going to Howard has helped me out in terms of stepping into this leadership management role. I also went there on a full football scholarship as well. I was a team captain, so that also helped with my leadership and people skills as well.
Many welders believe that gaining certifications is “just a piece of paper.” What would you say is the value of obtaining and keeping up with your welding certifications?
Heng: Number one, because every year the technology changes and advances. In the 70’s and 80’s we used to use rotary phones and now we use iPhones, and welding is the same. Materials, machines, are always advancing, and you always must learn to get better and improve.
What do you like best about being a welder in the Ship Repair Industry?
Heng: Anything I do I like. I like welding because it is like art. Also, I am not in the military, but I can support the military by helping to repair the ships that help defend our country. I help support the company, the company supports the Navy, and the Navy supports our country. It is a good way to be a part of something bigger.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in Ship Repair? Or Danual, for starting as an apprentice like you did?
Heng: I have apprentices join the company every year. While you are young you have a lot to learn. Do not waste time. When you are young, it’s important to know that. If you are wasting your time, you are wasting your life.
Danual: I would say that you must take pride in and love what you do. Me personally, I love getting up. I enjoy what I do, so me coming to work every day, I’m coming to work with a positive attitude, motivating the guys. I would just say find something you love to do, stay positive about it, work at your craft. Like my father always taught me, “First you learn your craft, then you master it.” Just be consistent and give it everything you have got. You must find something that you love, though.
Who would you say has been your biggest mentor in life and how did they help you be a successful person?
Danual: By far, my father. Rest in peace. He just always went above and beyond for his family no matter the situation, he always did what he needed to do to provide and take care of his family. He was a hardworking man. Something I will always remember about my father is that he always got up and went to work to provide. As far as me playing sports, I played sports since I was 5 years old, and all the way through college, I can only remember my father missing one game. He was very supportive. A hard-working and family-oriented man. I say a lot of my traits come from my father.
What do you do in your spare time?
Heng: Sometimes I watch the news. Local news. When I came to this country, I was 17 with four brothers. I helped them and supported them while they were small. Finally, the four of them found success in life. One graduated UVA in Chemical Engineering, one graduated ODU in Chemical Engineering, and I have two working in the shipyard on nuclear. After that I got married and have two kids. We opened a business, a small family business, a nail salon. I have two kids who go to college. One wants to be a doctor and the other wants to be a Computer Scientist. I am still working with BAE.
Danual: I have a 16-year-old and a 5-year-old and when I get off work, my main thing is spending time with them. My oldest son plays ball. He is a sophomore this year and starts for Kempsville (High School). Like I said with my father, he was always supportive, so anything they do, I always try to be supportive. I used to coach when he was younger, but now my main thing is spending time with my family.
Our thanks to VSRA for connecting us with Danual and Heng and to them both for making time to share their stories and industry insights with us. We are also thrilled to announce a new workforce development initiative—Rock the Trades—dedicated to honoring and empowering skilled industrial tradespeople (and those who wish to follow in their footsteps). Go to https://rockthetrades.com to learn more about the initiative and get involved.
This article originally appeared on Surehand.com, republished here with permission.
About the Author
April Daniels is a Candidate Success Manager at Surehand, where she supports skilled tradespeople in their search for industrial jobs across the United States and Canada.
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