Jesse Taggett, 17, (left), practices for the national SkillsUSA welding competition while his father, Rick Taggett, looks on. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

WOODLAND, Maine – A Woodland teen who is probably Aroostook County’s youngest certified welder is bound for a national skills competition in Georgia.

When Caribou High School junior Jesse Taggett was just 10 years old, he started following his father, Rick Taggett, around his welding shop. Watching his dad fabricate everything from snowmobiles to farm equipment, he caught the spark himself.

Father and son will head to the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in June, representing the Caribou Technology Center. But whereas some of his peers started welding in school programs, Jesse, now 17, has been racking up national certifications since he was 12. At first he just wanted to spend more time with his dad, but wound up building a foundation in the trade.

“Honestly, it all started from me wanting to spend time with him,” Jesse Taggett said. “I like doing pretty much any [welding] project that comes through the door.”

Seventeen-year-old Jesse Taggett (left) prepares for a welding job with the help of his father, RIck Taggett, at Northern Maine Community College. Credit: Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican

Though Jesse and Rick have never formally found out if Jesse is the youngest nationally certified welder in the country, he could easily be the youngest in Aroostook.

Rick Taggett operates his welding shop at the family’s Woodland home, and also teaches the craft to students at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle.

When Jesse took an interest, father and son bonded over the day-to-day shop activities. Jesse’s interest grew and he began learning the basic skills of the trade. With his father’s guidance, he has built some high-level, career-ready skills.

At 12, Jesse Taggett passed his first structural welding certification test from the American Welding Society. He has since earned his third level of certification, taking the same test that his father’s welding students complete prior to graduation.

By now Jesse is not only an experienced welder but also an integral part of his father’s business.

“Last week a gentleman came in with an aluminum part of a tractor trailer and Jesse gave him an estimated price and started working,” Rick Taggett said. “When I got home I helped him finish, but it was really his job.”

Though Rick has attended the SkillsUSA championships several times as a high school and college instructor, this year marks Jesse’s first national welding competition.

At the Maine SkillsUSA championships, Jesse placed first, gaining the lead by 14 points.

As he watches Jesse practice for competition and take on his own projects, Rick is amazed at how much his son has accomplished so far.

“Even when he’s in school, he’s working in our shop 20 hours a week,” his father said. “He’s really beginning to understand just how the world of work works.”

Jesse Taggett, 17, (left) and his father, Rick Taggett, are both headed to the SkillsUSA national welding competition in June, representing Caribou Technology Center and Northern Maine Community College, respectively. Credit: Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican

Jesse has taken welding and large equipment repair courses in high school. Though right now he isn’t certain what career he might pursue or how welding might fit in, he knows that his future will involve the trades.

But welding will remain an important part of his life, he said. Though he and his father have always been close, welding has given them more opportunities to learn from each other.

“[My dad] has been very influential. He has pushed me to do better every time I’ve done a project,” Jesse Taggett said.

The respect is mutual, Rick said, even when he becomes the student.

“We but heads occasionally and he’ll say, ‘I think we oughta do it this way,’ but it always works out in the end,” Rick Taggett said. “To be honest, sometimes he’s right and I’m wrong, but that has only made us closer.”