June 28, 2024

HireSmart Cares U.S. Career Assistance — Christopher’s Story 

If Christopher Wagnon says Caterpillar Inc. is "like family," he means it literally. The 2024 Madison County High School graduate recently joined his mom and dad, Crystal and Nathan, working for the construction equipment manufacturer. 

"I just knew I was going to be doing a blue-collar job," said Christopher. "When my dad first showed me how to weld, I was pretty fast at learning it, and I knew it was a good career to get into in terms of job positions and money, so I kind of figured I was gonna' go down that path." 

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HireSmart Cares, which helps local youth with scholarships, grants for entrepreneurial ventures, funding for job skills programs, travel expenses, job preparedness training, and more, provided high-quality work boots for Christopher and 12 of his MCHS classmates who signed with companies right out of high school. The nonprofit also wrote checks for $250 for five Madison County seniors who signed with the U.S. armed forces after graduation.  

HireSmart aims to help youth find good-paying jobs after high school without taking on burdensome college debt. Christopher fits the mold of what the nonprofit seeks for others: a stable income immediately after graduation. 

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Christopher began as an intern at Caterpillar in July 2023.  

"They had me welding tilt pins, which go on to the tilt towers, which are just like a giant trailer hitch," he said. "I was going to be going around and learning other stations, but we just didn't have enough people able to do what I was doing. So I was kind of stuck over there the entire time. But now I got done with orientation today, so I start my training again tomorrow, and then that's when they'll put me on the floor, and I'll just learn how to use the cranes and how to weld different spots and all sorts of things." 

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Christopher said he began welding in ninth grade and that Madison County High School and the Broad River College and Career Academy prepared him well for his work with Caterpillar.  

"I think I was 14–15," he said. "I learned how to do flux core at first, and then after that, it took me two years to get into the metal fabrications class, and after that, we learned how to do stick welding, (metal inert gas) MIG welding, and some other stuff like carbon arc gouging and oxyacetylene (oxy-fuel welding)." 

Christopher said his dad is an engineer who helps with repairs and ensures efficient processes. His mom is a team leader who works with excavators.  

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The recent graduate said welding is enjoyable. 

"It's pretty fun getting to mess around with it," he said. "It's pretty cool to see it actually fuse the metal together, able to just build stuff with it." 

Christopher said his ninth-grade supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project of building a trailer from scratch helped determine his path. 

"I got to mess around with welding like that, and it was kind of what catapulted me in this way, in this direction," he said.  


If you have a suggestion on initiatives to help more young people like Christopher find a path to success, email info@hiresmartcares.org. To read more about HireSmart Cares, click here. To support HireSmart Cares initiatives with a monetary donation, click here

Article written by Anne Lackey