Matt Wilson is a Lead Instructor at the Jacksonville campus, currently teaching Phase 10 to the morning class. He has been teaching at Tulsa Welding School for almost 18 months.
How long have you been in the field Matt?
I went to a technical college to learn welding when I was 18, straight out of high school. I’ve been working in the field since, so that’s about 8 years. I worked various jobs and did some of my own work on the side. I also taught at the technical school I attended for almost two and half years.
Why did you choose welding out of high school?
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I’ve always been real interested in it. The first time I ever welded I was about 12, working on a go-cart. When I was about 16 I wrecked my dune buggy and had to weld a front bumper or something. Plus, I’ve been working on vehicles since I was very young; my dad had me out in the garage at 4 years old, passing him wrenches and whatnot. Obviously, I didn’t know too much about welding as a career at first, but I always loved to build things, loved to work on stuff, and just try to improve at whatever I was doing.
What was it that really sparked your interest in welding?
The fact that you can always improve. I never want to be satisfied because I always want to be better. There are so many different processes, so many different operating variables. Learning how to read the puddle, how you control what’s basically the fire of the sun in your hands, and controlling molten material, it’s all intriguing. Of course, there’s also how beautiful it looks when you’re done.
Why did you decide that teaching is something you’d like to do?
I’ve always wanted to help people. For example, instead of working on my own truck, I’d work on yours to help you out. I think that’s why I came to teaching. In my opinion one of the most gratifying things in life is to help someone improve themselves. Everybody struggles, everybody has problems and to help somebody overcome and see the relief and satisfaction in their own work is a big, big part of it. I started teaching my first apprenticeship program when I was 22. I was very green – some of the guys had been welding longer than I’d been alive so I had to learn to assert myself without being a jerk!
Why did you choose Tulsa Welding School?
For a number of years I worked three separate jobs to try to bank some cash. There was a time when I taught in the morning and at night, wrenched as a mechanic, and then bounced at a bar at the weekend. I was working 75-100 hours a week, and I wanted to reduce that. Everything was great at the school I worked at, but there was no room to progress. It was my time to leave I guess, so I went to work for a metal shop. A friend of a friend worked here and they needed instructors, so that’s what got me on here.
As a boy, what did you want to do when you grew up?
As a kid I really wanted to be an Army Ranger- to be in the Special Forces. I guess I had a lot of different aspirations. I played football. I really enjoyed that. I played the drums for a number of years, so I was an aspiring musician at one time. But hey, I’ve still got a lot of life left to accomplish all these things!
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you?
I have to be careful here. I don’t want to incriminate myself! I like to work out; weight training is one of my things but I think people will know that. I guess my love for music. I play guitar and the ukulele. I used to play open mic nights to try to win the hearts of women out there! I’ve also bounced at a local bar for a number of years; I can handle myself but my biggest asset is I’ve always been able to keep my cool.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
The first person that comes to mind would be my granddad on my dad’s side. He died when I was 4 years old. He’s where dad came from, where I came from, I never got to know the man because I was so young.
What do you like best about teaching?
The feeling of accomplishment is one of the greatest feelings in life. To be able to help somebody enjoy that feeling and take pride in their work is wonderful. The easiest part of this job is taking someone literate, motivated, with good motor skills, good hand/eye coordination, who is a pretty good mechanic, and help them weld. It’s always great to help someone further their skills, but the real challenge is taking someone who’s the opposite of that.
Giving them the drive, confidence, and motivation to want to be better as a person, to do better work, is probably the most satisfying thing. As well as teaching them the hard skills, we show them how to rely on themselves, be confident in their work, and want to be better. We’re teaching them a trade that nobody can take away from them.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting out?
Go into this understanding that welding is hard work; this is a tough trade to be a part of. Yes, it is very gratifying and very rewarding, but you need to know that every hour that you’re here you need to put every fiber of your being into it. You need dedication and a desire to constantly improve, and recognize that it’s going to take practice and repetition. One thing we always say here is, “Go run me another one”. Just go into it as hard as possible, I guess, listen to your instructors, and always strive to do better.
What’s your favorite tool? What could you not do without?
My welding hood, that’s the #1 thing. You really can’t weld without a hood.
If you weren’t a teacher and money was no object, what would you be?
I’d probably go back get into the Special Forces try to become a Navy Seal or an Army Ranger. That’s really what I’ve always wanted to do.
Why didn’t you follow that path?
I was never encouraged. In fact I was always discouraged by my family and the girls that I was dating. I’ve had a number of long term relationships, never serious enough to pull the trigger and get married, but every long term girlfriend I had, talked me out of it. But I still have a year or two left – I might yet try.
You get an unexpected afternoon to yourself, what would you do with that time?
I’d probably go workout at the gym, or go fishing. I do like to go out on the water or go to the woods.
Thinking back to your time in the field, what was your favorite part of the job?
As far as the industry goes, the fellowship and camaraderie between welders is great. There’s no doubt about that. But I think as far as welding itself…when it comes to TIG, my favorite part is lifting up my hood to see the finished product, seeing what I just laid down finally solidified. While working you’re watching molten weld pool, so you don’t get a good look until you snap the arc, lift the hood and see the welded metal. It’s very gratifying when you see it’s laid down exactly how you wanted it to be.
If you were to tell one person, “Thank You”, who would it be and what did they do?
I’d have to pick two – my parents – Susan and Brad Wilson. When I was young, no matter what I was aspiring to do, they’d always support me. When I was young and playing music, they’d always come to competitions. My mother would always support me 100% in anything I wanted to do, as long as it was safe! My dad was always there, no matter if I was stupid and got in trouble. They have always been very supportive and loving parents; I wouldn’t be half the man I am today without them influencing my life.