What the “$140,000 Wall Street Welder” Tells Us About Dyslexic Strengths

Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran an article with an attention-grabbing title: “The $140,000-a-Year Welding Job.” The story focused on a 24-year-old welder in Texas:

[Justin] Friend might have been expected to head for a university after graduating from high school in Bryan, Texas, five years ago. Instead, he attended Texas State Technical College in Waco, and received a two-year degree in welding. In 2013, his first full year as a welder, his income was about $130,000…. In 2014, Mr. Friend’s income rose to about $140,000.

The article went “viral” and received hundreds of comments. Many asked why students should spend $200,000 (or more) for college when high-paying jobs like this are available. Others focused on how hard it’s become to find young people willing to do hard physical work, which has helped drive up wages in skilled trades.

However, one aspect of this story went largely unnoticed. Justin, the young welder featured in the article, is dyslexic.

There are many key points that shine through Justin’s story. These points are important to understand for dyslexic students and their advisors. Here are eight that we believe are especially helpful:

  1. Justin found career success by building on his strengths, not by overcoming his weaknesses. His key strengths, like spatial and mechanical ability and skill in working with his hands, are essential to being a great welder. Reading and spelling are not. Clearly, better reading and spelling skills open up more career options for dyslexic people. But this article reminds us that good jobs can be found where strengths outweigh continued challenges.
  2. Justin’s strengths showed up early in life. His mother mentioned his early interest in making things. “At three years old, he was using a screwdriver and a hacksaw skillfully.” These early signs of strengths often point to later career opportunities. Parents and educators can be a big help if they notice and support them.
  3. Strengths like Justin’s are especially common in dyslexic individuals. In our book, The Dyslexic Advantage, we describe strength patterns that are often seen in dyslexic individuals. Spatial and mechanical reasoning is one of the most common patterns. It’s helpful for dyslexic individuals and their families to be familiar with these strength patterns, which we call MIND Strengths, because individuals with often find success when pursuing work in jobs where these strengths are important.
  4. Justin is finding success in a type of job that students often aren’t exposed to in school. He was fortunate to be able to take a welding course in junior high school. This shows how important shop and vocational classes can be for students with learning and thinking differences. When students can’t take such classes in school, alternatives can often be found with local community centers or service organizations.
  5. Although Justin’s parents teach college, they supported his decision to pursue a manual trade. Many college-educated parents are convinced that a four-year college degree is the only route to career success. Others fear that their children will be looked down on if they don’t get a college degree. But not all roads to success pass through four-year college.
  6. The decision not to attend four-year college right out of high school doesn’t mean college will never be in the cards. Justin has interests in science and engineering that might later lead him back to school. If they do, the personal skills and savings he’s building now will make his studies even easier. So will the additional years of brain development. Students with learning and thinking differences are “late bloomers.” Their brains mature later than others, so students who struggle at age 18 often develop into excellent students in their mid to late twenties.
  7. Justin currently pursues some of his most important interests outside of work or the classroom. Like many dyslexics, Justin is a natural-born inventor. “[H]is hobbies [include] making jet engines, including one he attached to a golf cart.” Justin builds his skills through hands-on trial and error. While his welding job currently pays for his tinkering, over time he will likely find a way to combine these interests into something unique and special. We’ve seen this time and time again.
  8. For students with learning and thinking differences, good things happen when they combine passion, skill and hard work. Recently, a young dyslexic professional in our online network gave this advice to some of his younger peers: “Being awesome at something is the best way to have your deficits overlooked. The first step in being awesome, is figuring out what you're good at and what you like, and working very hard to be better at it.” We think Justin would very much agree.

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About the author

About the author

Brock and Fernette Eide, Dyslexic Advantage co-founded the organization Dyslexic Advantage and are co-authors of “The Dyslexic Advantage” and “The Mislabeled Child.”