An Ironworker's Journey Leads to Mission Possible Heights

February 2024

Growing up with a father as an ironworker, Jeremy O. Wheeless believed he knew where his professional journey would lead him. But it was only a stepping stone to where he is now.

Wheeless began welding at a very young age. His father designated him as a “welder’s helper” (amongst many other things) almost his entire childhood. So, upon graduating high school, the next logical step for Wheeless was joining the local ironworkers union and working his way toward becoming a journeyman and certified welder. He participated in a three-year ironworker apprenticeship program, receiving his journeyman ironworker license and 3G welding certification from Local Union No. 482 in Austin, Tex. As a journeyman, he worked on various construction types, including structural steel, architectural precast, tilt-wall, steel bridges, as well as crane and tower crane erection. His experience as an ironworker gives him unique insight into the built world.

IT Feb 24 - CWI Corner
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Wheeless performed industrial rope access techniques to install structural supports to be used for new sound equipment at the Purdue University Mackey Arena in Indiana.

After more than eight years of experience in the construction industry working as a journeyman ironworker, hearing many ironworkers’ war stories, observing ironworkers dealing with on-the-job impairments and injuries, and knowing a fellow journeyman who passed away while working on a jobsite, Wheeless left the trade. He then met his wife, who encouraged him to pursue higher education. He obtained a bachelor of science degree in architectural engineering in 2016 and a master of science degree in civil engineering in 2018 from the University of Texas in Austin. Soon thereafter, he landed a job with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE), known in the industry as “the engineer’s engineer.” This has allowed him to follow his interests and passions in welding, bridges, and civil infrastructure. He often inspects and/or repairs welds of all kinds.

A day in the life for Wheeless generally consists of solving a problem for engineers that they can’t quite figure out. He typically receives an assignment that requires travel. According to Wheeless, the most common inspection tools he uses involve his eyes, mind, and the guidance from his colleagues at WJE.

What is the highlight of your career?

I am grateful that I have a job I really enjoy. Most folks wouldn’t say they enjoy their jobs. I feel it most days. I am lucky to have found a job and an industry that I have been training my whole life for. The highlight is my career.

How did you hear about AWS?

A colleague of mine at WJE [Chuck Larosche, PE, who was involved with the AWS D1.7 Committee] encouraged me to earn Certified Welding Inspector [CWI] status and get involved with committees at AWS. And, every ironworker knows what the welding inspector does (makes you fix your mistakes).

When did you become an AWS CWI and why?

I became a CWI soon after joining WJE in the winter of 2018. Given my background as an ironworker and certified welder, it made sense for me to get the certification.

IT Feb 24 - CWI Corner
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Wheeless performed corrosion assessment of weathering steel, coring, and bolt extraction at the Perrine Bridge in Idaho.

How has becoming an AWS CWI benefited your professional career?

It was the first professional certification I obtained as an engineer. It has brought value to many of my clients and helped me get involved with very interesting projects all over the United States. Additionally, it helped me see that gaining licensure of any kind was much like schooling. You make small steps toward a goal, and before long, you are standing at the finish line.

What words of encouragement do you have for individuals thinking about becoming an AWS CWI?

This industry needs you. I need you. If you want a job for life, become an AWS CWI. If I can progress from being a welder’s helper to becoming a professional engineer andCWI, you can, too. Create a goal and be dogged about achieving it. If there is a setback, see it for what it is, get past it, and keep moving toward the goal. Believe me, I have had my fair share of setbacks, but I knew I was working toward something that would help me and my family have stability. America is being built all around you, one weld at a time. Let’s do our part to help it get built as best as it can.