Shane, 28, is a Welding Instructor at Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus. Shane started his career as a welder’s helper working in the Texas oil fields; a couple of years later he attended TWS as a student.
Thanks for your time, Shane. How long have you been teaching at Tulsa Welding School?
Going on four years. This is my first teaching job, and I really enjoy it.
So how did you get into welding at 18?
I didn’t know the first thing about welding. I’d never even thought about it. Like a lot of kids I’d never given any thought to how buildings or ships get put together. I got thrown into it out of high school. I moved out to Texas to live with my mom and started as a helper working in the oil field with a welder called Roger Bundick.
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Pretty much my first day on the job he told me I was going to grind this four inch pipe that was all rusted up. I spent 10 hours, the whole day, grinding it shiny. At the end of the day, he told me to put it back on the pipe rack. On the way home I asked him what were we going to use the four inch for…he said “nothing.” Why did he have me grind it then? His answer, “Just to see if you could hang.” From that day on he took me under his wing and taught me everything; how to fit, how to weld, how to cut. I learned a bunch of different stuff from him. I was in Texas a couple of years.
Why did you enroll at Tulsa as a student?
I became an actual welder in the oil fields after I broke out. But all I did was downhill 6010 on pipelines and oil tanks. I didn’t know anything but that. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, Liz, lived in Jacksonville and went to UNF. She wanted me to come home for a while. I had a pre-paid Florida college plan so I came back and looked into Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville. They had all the different processes I’d not done – TIG, MIG, all things that I’d never ran or even seen ran. I’d heard a lot about TIG, but I’d never seen it, so I decided to go through the Professional Welder program in 2010.
What made you decide to go into teaching?
Mainly because I look back to Roger, the guy that taught me in the field. I looked up to him a lot. He taught me a bunch of different things, so I kind of wanted to give back.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I really enjoy teaching students who want to learn. When they really want it, it makes me feel good for them to come up and say, “Man, do you see this? Look how much better I’ve done since you taught me that one little trick.” Teaching is what I really like to do. Obviously, I could go out and make more money somewhere else, but I’d rather be here teaching people to better the industry as a whole.
What do you teach?
I’ve been teaching Phase 8 – TIG Stainless – at night for almost two years now. It’s my favorite phase just because I see a lot of students finally grasp TIG. Phase 7 – TIG Carbon – is the first real TIG phase working on two inch pipe. A lot of students really struggle because they’ve only had two to three weeks on it. When they come to me they’ve had a little practice. They might not like TIG because they’ve struggled with it, but I can see what they’ve learned and hone in on what they need to work on. A lot of students love Phase 8 because they improve so much in that phase; they can see a tangible change in their skills.
Do you miss the oil field?
I do miss it because it was something different every day. What I had to adjust to as a teacher was doing the same thing every day, but with different people. But what I’ve discovered is that I’m able to read people really well. I’m a good welder. I’m not the best in the state or anything, but I’m very good at reading people and knowing how to explain something in terms each student will understand. I can explain the same weld in different ways because I know how each of them will best understand it.
Is that why you’ve stayed teaching?
I really enjoy seeing different students come through all the time. I enjoy learning their personalities, the challenge of learning how to teach them in a way they’ll get because everybody learns differently. When you see guys who come back to say hi and to tell us how much money they’re making after being on the road for six months, that’s cool…but it kind of upsets you too because they’re making way more money than us. But it’s a good feeling to know that I taught those guys to do what they do to make that much money, and I made a real difference in their lives. You can’t put a price on that.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up?
I hear stories all the time, but when I was really young when my dad would ask me what I want to be, I’d tell him a fire truck – not a fireman, a fire truck! That was when I was really little! But once I was older, it was probably a professional golfer.
A pro golfer – were you any good?
I could have been a lot better if I’d stuck to it! It’s the same with welding. The only way you’re going to get better is with practice and dedication. When I went to school at Tulsa, I stayed there 10 hours a day because I wanted to get better, but I understand a lot of these students have jobs and other things they have to do. I didn’t have to work because I had a lot of money saved up from the oil field.
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you?
I’m a big hearted person. I’ll help anybody out. Some people take that as a weakness I guess. I’ll give someone the shirt off my back to help someone out. I’m very easy-going. I like to joke a lot, and I BS back and forth with everybody, and I get messed with more than anybody. I guess I’m an easy target because I wear everything on my sleeve! That’s why pretty much everybody knows everything about me!
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
Adam Sandler, that would be fun. I think we’d be pretty in tune with each other and get along well.
Tell us about your family.
I’m married to Liz; we’ve been together 10 years. We just had a baby boy, Connor, three months ago.
If you weren’t a teacher and you could pick your job, what would you be?
Professional golfer. It’s been a little slower since we had the baby, but I try to play at least once a week.
You get an unexpected afternoon to yourself; what would you do with that time?
I’d probably go home and finish some yard work I’ve been working on. But if it was my choice, without my wife yelling at me and giving me a hard time, then I’d go to the golf course for the afternoon!
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting?
It’s pretty simple. Whatever you put in to the school is what you’ll get out of it. Students who come and put the time in, put the hard work in, work their butt off in the booth, they’re the ones most likely to go out and get the good, high paying jobs. If you come in acting like someone’s forced you to be here, and just kind of go through the motions and do the minimum, you might still get a job but it won’t be the high paying ones that everybody wants because you’re not going to be good enough.
I’d also tell them that when they get really frustrated in the booth, when they want to quit and go home, they’re just over it you know – I tell them to go outside take a little break and cool off. Going home today isn’t going to make them better tomorrow. It isn’t going to make them a better welder. You’ve got to fight through the hard times. Every welder has their off days, me included. I go in some days, and I’ll kill it and can’t make a mistake. There’s other days when I can’t make a weld look good if my life depended on it! The more they practice, the better they’ll get and the fewer bad days they’ll have.
What’s your favorite tool? What could you not do without?
Often students say, “Something’s wrong with the machine; it’s making my weld look bad.” I tell them “It’s between the holder and the shoulder! Your arm is the problem. It’s operator error, not the machine!”
Without my arm I couldn’t make the pretty welds I make. Clearly there are a lot of different tools. I need my hood to make my welds, and depending on what I’m welding, I need my stinger or my torch…stuff like that. But none of that is useful if I don’t have the skill in my arm and in my mind to do the welds.
Thinking of your time in the field, what was your favorite part of the job?
It’s great to be able to see what you’ve built. When I started in the oil field, we built a compressor station with a big oil tank to receive and send oil. We built it from the ground up. I was just a helper at the time, but it was cool to see a dirt field and a set of blueprints turn into this huge tank with all the piping. We did everything. We did the cement; we did the pillars to put the pipe on, everything. It was crazy to see something like that come from nothing. I’m also a real people person, and you meet a bunch of different people out there. You don’t know who you’re going to run into – a nice quiet guy or a crazy guy that tells stories that are probably half-made up.
If you were to tell someone, “Thank You” for making you who you are today, who would it be & why?
Definitely my dad, Mark. He and I are real close. He’s like my best friend. He definitely made me the person I am today. As a young kid he taught me right from wrong, taught me not to lie, to always try my hardest and put my everything into everything I do. We had a rough patch when I was in high school. I was doing some things that he didn’t agree with. He actually kicked me out and told me to get my act together. That’s when I went to live with my mom in Texas. Honestly, if he hadn’t done that, I don’t know where I’d be. I’d probably still working at a golf course as a cart guy as that’s what I was doing before I left. He knew what he needed to do to get me back on track, and he’s why I am who I am today.