Welding student passes bend test at sixteen years old

Published 4:34 pm Monday, October 16, 2023

Welding is more than just a trade; it’s a craft that combines skill, precision and determination. Ean Watson, a junior in the St. John STEM Magnet Program, is a shining example of how passion, dedication and mentorship can lead to exceptional success in the world of welding.

Watson recently achieved a significant milestone in his welding journey by passing his structural bend test at only sixteen years old. This accomplishment is not only a testament to his unwavering commitment but also highlights the crucial role played by his welding instructor, Courtney Branch.

Courtney Branch, a graduate of East St. John’s class of 1997, chose to leave a promising career in the industrial sector to return to his community and impart his knowledge to the next generation. 

“I left the plants just to give back to my community and help these young guys come straight out of high school to make some nice money,” Branch said. “Not just a low minimum-wage type of thing.” 

Serving as the lead welding instructor at ABC since 2008 and later joining East St. John High School as a welding instructor in 2019, Branch has committed himself to shaping the futures of aspiring welders.

“It’s these guys’ motivation and willingness to give up their time that made them get to the point where they are now,” Branch said. 

The commitment of his students is striking, as they attend Saturday classes and arrive at the welding class well before the scheduled time on Saturdays.

“The police usually pull up on them and ask ‘Why are you guys here so early?’” said Branch. “Because they’re that motivated and they really want to do this.”

With a high school welding competition on the horizon, Branch has great expectations for his students. He believes that Ean Watson and Mitchell Walker are the front-runners to win the competition this year. 

“I can’t really see anybody being more advanced than these two guys,” Branch said.

However, it’s not just about reaching the 100 percent mark for Branch. He expects his students to go above and beyond, as he has high standards for those who receive state certification. 

“I will not give anyone a state certification if you can’t go out there and perform that job,” Branch said. 

The focus is on ensuring that students are prepared for the real world of welding, not just meeting graduation requirements.

Ean Watson, a student under the mentorship of Courtney Branch, exemplifies this ethos. His work ethic is unwavering. 

“I’m hungry for it. I’m gonna do what I have to do, and I’m gonna be great in every aspect of it. Whatever I do, I strive to be the best,” Watson said. His dedication is evident as he spends long hours honing his skills, often staying late on Saturdays to perfect his craft.

Watson’s journey into welding began when he took the core course with Mr. Branch. Holding a welding rod for the first time, Ean discovered a passion that would change the course of his life. 

“I got a welding rod in my hand for the first time, probably a week before the class ended. And after that, it was history,” Watson said. “I put my blood, sweat, and tears into it. Literally.”

Watson’s recent achievement of passing the structural bend test is a significant step forward in his welding journey. 

Watson admits that he was nervous during the test.

“I always say I can kiss my welds. I’m kind of cocky with it,” Watson said. “But that was probably one of the scariest things I ever did, and I’m not a scared person. I don’t get nervous.”

The test involves cutting a piece of metal into four strips and subjecting it to intense pressure until it resembles a U shape. If no defects appear on the top side of the U, the test is passed.

“He can go to a lab and become a certified welder. So that means that he is eligible for $28 to $34 an hour,” Branch said regarding Watson passing his test. “He might be the youngest one to ever pass the bend test.”

Watson is now preparing to tackle the pipe welding bend test within the next year, a more complex challenge that awaits him.

Under the guidance of Courtney Branch, students like Watson are setting high standards for themselves and proving that welding is not just a trade but a gateway to a fulfilling and prosperous career.