A Lifetime of Success

Legendary SAIW Lecturer Willie Williams who has been at the Institute for more than 20 years and has trained thousands of students, says the trick to achieving success is accepting that even though life doesn’t always work out as planned; if  you have a goal and a passion in life, you readjust, persevere and push through!

Q.Please can you give a brief outline of where you grew up, went to school and completed your tertiary education?

A.I grew up in Heilbron and also went to school there. At a young age, I moved to Johannesburg to continue my career path. I don’t have any tertiary education, but I did my trade test at a private college where I also made use of all the experience I gained growing up.

Q. How did the first years of your career/first job/s build on what you learnt at university/college but in a more practical setting? What were the key lessons you learned during this time?

A. The beginning of a welding career can be challenging because it requires experience. I always tell myself, that if you have a goal and a passion in life, you have no choice but to persevere and push through. And that’s exactly what I did.

Q. How did you come to work at the SAIW and when?

A. Before I came to work at the SAIW, I worked at a welding company in Edenvale. Due to financial reasons, the company was reaching its end, which meant I had to look for another job. I worked my last day on a Friday and decided to visit the SAIW the following week to enquire about quality assurance training. It had always been my dream to further my education. That week, a lot of personal things kept getting in the way of me going to the SAIW, but I finally made it on the Thursday.

While enquiring about the courses I also stopped to say hello to an old friend working there. As we were catching up, the Manager Jeff Williams walked past and heard our conversation. He asked if I was a welder and if I would be interested in becoming a welding trainer. At that time, I had little training experience. Long story short, I gave him my CV and after a month of already working at another company, I was called in by the SAIW to do a practical test. I was offered the job out of four candidates. I believe I was at the right place, at the right time and I have been at the SAIW for over 20 years now!

Q. What is your current position and please describe a typical day in your job?

A. I am currently a working supervisor. I provide instructors and students with training. I have been abroad many times to train and help companies set up and find their feet. Occasionally, I am also used as an examiner. A typical day is very difficult to describe as no day is the same for me. I work with different people with different needs. Each day has its challenges.

Q. Why do you feel that welding skills have such an important role to play in getting South Africa’s economy back on track following the COVID-19 pandemic?

A. We have a shortage of critical and highly skilled welders and we must ensure that we train and get the best welders to fill key roles within our economy. Welding skills are one of the most exceptional skills a person can have. It’s a skill within a skill. With basic welding skills, you can still work at a company, perform well and even open your own business. You can be successful with just a basic skill and continue adding the building blocks to your education.

Q. Why does the SAIW have such an important part to play in this economic recovery and the overall success of the fabrication and manufacturing sectors in particular?

A. The SAIW is a non-profit organisation that is ‘for industry and by industry. It is one of the few institutes that has the whole package as we provide everything in-house and have a broad spectrum of training available. Our courses span training for basic welding to more complex skills like welding inspection, co-ordination and supervisory roles that can be used in most environments. The SAIW also works hand in hand with big companies such as Sasol, Eskom, and Transnet and universities such as UJ and the University of Pretoria. Students from the University in Pretoria make use of our institution to further their studies.

Q. What do you consider the most exciting innovations/developments in the welding technology sector over the last five years?

A. Technology is so advanced today compared to years ago. The fourth industrial revolution applies to so many changes in our sector. We have welding simulators that make life so much easier along with cutting costs tremendously. In the past, we could not x-ray welding jobs properly compared to today. With an x-ray welding machine today, you can establish not only how long a defect is but how deep it is and exactly where its located. This in itself, makes jobs so much easier. Robotic welding is also an exceptional innovation and development for our sector. Technology has evolved tremendously over time.

Q.What is your life philosophy/a phrase or sentence that sums up your approach to life and work?

A. I always say to the guys; “When you don’t have patience with yourself while in training, how can I have patience with you?”. Training to become a welder is not a two to three day ‘business’, it takes time and patience. We have a lot of foreign students that come to us for training. Some of them feel defeated when they don’t get something right the first time. Welding takes a lot of time and requires patience with yourself.

Q.What is one of the most important lessons you have learnt in life and who or which situation did this stem from?

A. The moment I dropped out of school, I made sure to get myself back on track and back in school. I then studied to be a welder. I believe the lesson would be to keep building yourself up and bettering yourself every day. When we are in school, we all have a dream of becoming a specific someone. That does not always work out as planned, but you readjust, set a goal and keep going until you reach it.  My background didn’t stop me from going forward and I’m very satisfied with where I am now.

Q. What are your personal goals and your goals for the SAIW in the next year?

A. Next year I am retiring. In my conversation with the director of SAIW, I told him I would like to remain involved with SAIW as a member. I still have a passion for welding and would still love to teach or possibly be involved in community service. I am also thinking about starting a YouTube channel (advice from my students) for welding, where I can bring forward my knowledge of welding and possibly inspire others who don’t have the funds to pursue welding.

I have learned so much during my life and the thing that always sticks with me is, that life might not always be easy, but we must try our best to make the most out of it.