Giants of Skilled Trades: Steve Catherman, Rhoads Industries

A skilled tradesman wears a white Rhoads Industries helmet and a dark grey Rhoads Industries jacket. The words "Giants of Skilled Trades" are to the right of him.

To be a longstanding contributor to American manufacturing is a substantial achievement. Moreover, there are individual contributors who play a crucial role in nurturing the next generation.

Steve Catherman, Rhoads Industries

Steve Catherman has spent more than 40 years participating in commercial and Department of Defense projects in the metal fabrication and welding industries. He has been with Rhoads Industries in Philadelphia in a variety of positions for 27 of those years. Alongside his colleagues, he has developed programs to train new professionals quickly but thoroughly for the company. Catherman and his team have fostered strong connections with welding institutions across the Philadelphia area, spanning from high schools to colleges and post-secondary programs. This strategic networking has paved the way for a robust pipeline of manufacturing and skilled trades employment. In addition to the company’s welding apprenticeship program, Rhoads recently enlarged their welding training center which also provides opportunities for experienced welders to enhance their skill sets.

As a result of Catherman’s work and collaborations, more than 100 welders were hired by Rhoads in 2023. This year, the company is set to maintain the same hiring target, with the potential to exceed it, as a new training center at Rhoads is scheduled to open this month.

Catherman took time out from preparing the next generation of skilled tradespeople to discuss his career and perspectives.

What first made you want to get into the skilled trades?

I was inspired by my 7th through 9th grade metal shop teacher (yes, back then we had “shop” in high school). In my 10th grade year, I entered the Vocational Technical School system that was half-day academics and half-day technical training (the Middle Bucks Welding program in Jamison, PA). I knew in my first year of this three-year program I wanted to be part of the welding industry. It gave me the tools I needed after graduation to start working immediately in this industry.

What satisfaction have you gotten over the years from working in manufacturing, and specifically, defense manufacturing?

To be honest, satisfaction comes from the accomplishment of being part of welding crews managing fabrication complex components, building systems, constructing plants to their completion, and getting to see them in full operation. Having been part of the defense industry at different times throughout my career has been particularly rewarding. At this stage in my career, getting to be essential in the training and development at Rhoads Industries contributing towards the submarine building mission is beyond satisfying.

Is there a particular memory or project that stands out from your career?

Loaded question! I have been involved in many projects that stand out, from building hardware for the DOD (Navy and Air Force) supporting our military, to the commercial world building plants, complex systems, and fabrication components. What always stands out is the extraordinary craftsmen, colleagues, and mentors I have had the honor learn from, work with, and manage over the years.

A large warehouse space is shown with lots of pieces of metal. In the distance near a large tube, five people are walking around. A welder sends sparks flying off another piece of metal in the middle of the space.
A welder wearing blue clothing and a mask works on a curved tube. A bright light off the tube lights the worker's mask.
A welder wearing orange clothing and a mask works on a flat surface. Light from the worker's torch sends sparks and smoke into the air.

You’re now helping create the next generation of skilled tradespeople. What do you see in the young people and newcomers you get to train today?

At Rhoads Industries, we annually visit and communicate with more than 14 welding training institutions in the Philadelphia region. We seek craftsman from all career levels – high school CTE programs, post-secondary trade schools, and college levels – to enter our growing workforce. Our training and workforce development team learned quickly that all institutions train differently, and we all focused on developing methods, techniques, and customized trainings to prepare newcomers and skilled craftsman entering Rhoads workforce, properly preparing them for necessary DOD/MIL welding qualifications to work on DOD hardware. Through career awareness, school outreach, and customized trainings, Rhoads Industries wants to show the next generation of welders what an opportunity it is to join a growing company working on submarine construction contributing to a critical mission.

Regardless of experience or age, what characteristics and qualities do you think great skilled tradespeople have?

“Safety first” individuals who are compliant focused, follow work instructions, and are quality driven. People who never assume. If you do not know or understand, ask. People who take care of and maintain their equipment/tools. People who communicate, are willing to learn new technology and methods, and look out for their fellow craftsman.

What would you tell someone who is looking at pursuing a skilled trades career today?

I chose the trades (welding, specifically) and would not have changed anything. At 18, I had a full-time job, no student loans, and a career that has been very rewarding and provided for my family. I have two awesome, successful children, two grandchildren, a home, and yes, some toys. Though I am not ready for retirement just yet, I am all set to do so. The welding industry is a brotherhood. I met some awesome craftsmen and mentors along the way and have traveled the world. I am now humbled by giving back to the industry that gave me so much by training welders from all over the industry for this critical submarine mission, including students from my alma mater. In short, pursuing the trades can be very successful by staying focused, working hard, and remaining dedicated to the craft. It will lead to success.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

I was a good father to my awesome kids, a contributor to the welding industry who greatly respected and cared for both the skilled and up-and-coming craftsmen of this trade, and someone who left this world a better place.

Careers at Rhoads Industries are among the thousands available right now in the Opportunities section of

Written by:
Steve Fullhart, BlueForge Alliance

(Photos from Rhoads Industries)

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