Keith, 42, is an electrical instructor at our Jacksonville campus. Born right here in Jacksonville, Keith has 24 years experience in the electrical field, a career that started at the age of 18 in the U.S. Navy. Keith joined Tulsa Welding School in September 2018.
Thanks for your service and your time today, Keith. Talk us through your career.
I went into the Navy at 18 and trained to become an aviation electrician’s mate. After six years I left and started work as a commercial electrician. I only ever worked for two companies before coming to Tulsa Welding School; I know some people have a longer list. I ran jobs, worked with different contractors, and completed the jobs from ground, all the way to finish. We did new construction, refurbishments, everything. I was with my first company for about 14 years.
What made you go into the commercial world, as opposed to residential?
Money, to be honest with you. It was more of a challenge, too. Doing commercial electrical jobs is a little more detailed than wiring houses on a day-to-day basis.
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So after 14 years there you went to…?
I started doing control work with Facility Automation Solutions. It was still basically a “running pipe and pulling wire” type thing, but it was a little bit more detailed. I was more into circuitry, controls, and things of that nature. I was there from 2010 until 2014, I think.
What made you leave the field to become an instructor at Tulsa Welding School?
Well, I’ve had three back surgeries. I got hurt when I was on active duty. It got so bad in 2014 that I couldn’t really work in the field anymore. They put rods and pins in me. Between 2014 and 2018, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. I was out of commission. At that point I was considered 100% disabled.
How did you get introduced to Tulsa Welding School?
I know Mr. Robert Padgett. He is lead electrical instructor here and he got me in the door. He said, “You’d make a great teacher. Come give this a shot.” He’s a good man and my direct supervisor.
I wanted to stay in the trade, but I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it. When this came up, it was the perfect opportunity for me to use what I know, still work in the trade and help people. Helping the students is a real benefit of our job. This position allows me to work without the physical stresses of pulling, pushing, bending, and lifting—and all the other good stuff I used to have to do.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Working with the students is what I like the best. I like watching that light come on. Sometimes they can be challenging, but the good outweighs the bad for sure!
Is teaching what you thought it would be?
It is absolutely nothing like I thought it would be. It’s better, definitely better. We’ve got a good group of guys here that I work with, all the way from my lead instructor to my co-workers. We all try to help each other. We try to get the students out the door with as much knowledge as we can give them.
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you.
I like cake! I’m kidding you. You know, I think it would be that I really love my family. I really do. They are the reason I get up in the morning. My son, my fiancée, my sister. I lost both my parents, and that really opened my eyes to what was important in life.
Tell us about your family.
My son is 24, and my fiancée and I have been together for about five years now. We got engaged six months ago. We haven’t set a date yet. She’s still making sure she can put up with me!
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I wanted to be an electrician. I know it sounds weird, but I was always in the garage messing with my dad’s tools and stuff, trying to wire things that I probably shouldn’t have been doing.
Was there an electrician in the family to influence you?
My brother-in-law. He was an aviation electrician in the Navy, and he’s the one who got me into it.
If you weren’t a teacher, and money was no object, what would you do?
I would like to run my own business at some point. I don’t know. It’s not like I have to do anything other than what I’m doing right now. I mean, I am pretty happy.
What was the favorite part of your job out in the field?
I loved running pipe. I loved it. I mean, that was my favorite thing to do. As electricians, we have to bend our own conduit and install it, and there’s a lot of math involved in that. It’s definitely a skill that you learn over time. It’s not something you can just pick up in a couple hours of class or something. I’ve always been good at math, and that really benefited me when I tried to apply it.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
My mom Marjorie. She died in 2007. I’d like her to see where I am now, and to see if she’s happy with me.
What would you do with an unexpected morning off?
I’d probably go fishing, or take the dog for a walk. Or I might just show up at my fiancée’s work and take her to breakfast.
If you could tell someone “thank you” for helping you become the man you are, who would it be?
There would be two. My father, George Morris. He never gave up on me. He was always there, even when I didn’t deserve it. He was always that positive push. And my first boss, Eric Linton, for putting up with all my crap when I was young. He made me the electrician I am today. He gave me my trade, at no benefit to him.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting out?
Don’t give up. Try to remember that passion that you had when you signed those papers. Remember what you’re doing this for, your motivation for being here in the first place—that probably hasn’t changed so don’t give up on it. I tell my students all the time: “There’s a reason why you’re here.”