Cameron, age 25, is a welding instructor at the Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston. A graduate of Tulsa Welding School in Houston himself, Cameron joined our faculty in July 2018.
Thanks for your time, Cameron. How long have you been welding?
In terms of getting paid to weld? About seven years. But I actually started welding 12 years ago in middle school. I was in 7th grade. It was an elective tech class. I worked on little projects like making hog traps and other things. I also did a lot of local and state welding competitions. I continued welding through high school. I tried the college route but soon realized it wasn’t for me. I wanted to stick with the trades.
So you went to work?
Yes, I started working as a helper here and there, then started welding full-time. After a few years, I decided I needed to go to welding school to get my certifications, so I enrolled here. I graduated from the seventh-month Welding Specialist program in 2015.
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Why did you choose to attend this welding school in Houston?
I looked at several options but I liked that this was a real welding school. I mean strictly welding. It wasn’t just a college that offered a welding program. I took a tour and really liked what I saw. I signed up that day. It was definitely a good decision. I left with much more knowledge than I came in with, even though I’d been in the field for several years. It has helped shape my career to where I’m at today.
Talk us through your career since graduating TWS.
My first job was with KBR. I got on as a pipefitter helper and started working my way up, welding more and more. That job was up near Amarillo, Texas. I did that for about six months before the job ended. Then I moved down to Freeport and worked with Zachry on an FLNG [floating liquefied natural gas] project. I got on doing ironwork, then I got an opportunity to take a weld test and started doing structural welding.
That job slowly ended and I got laid off, then did some independent work. That’s when I got asked to come work at the school. They wanted a graduate on the team, so I took a weld test and started here going on four months ago.
What made you decide to go into teaching?
I was always on the road, going where the jobs were. I did that for three years, always loading my truck up, unloading it, staying in hotels. Honestly it kind of wore me out. I know welding can take you anywhere and the possibilities are endless, but I missed home. I wanted something steady for a while, Monday through Friday. While at school, I worked at a restaurant and became a trainer. I kind of liked having that teacher role, so I thought I’d try this out when the opportunity came up and I’ve loved it.
What do you like best about teaching?
Being able to share my knowledge of the trade I fell in love with. It’s a really humbling feeling to share that knowledge with people. We need a lot more people in the skilled trades, so I’m glad I can teach it.
You’re only 25, do you think you’ll get back out on the road?
One day. But I want to hang tight here for a couple of years. Then I’ll get my CWI, my certified welding inspector certificate. Then I might venture back out on the road.
I guess teaching doesn’t pay quite as well as welding?
This was definitely a pay cut, but being on the road was harder work. I worked 7x10s or 7x12s, 13 on and 1 off. All my welds were for production, so I always had inspectors hovering over me. I was under pressure. So this is a pay cut, but it’s a lot more relaxed. I also get to practice and perfect everything I’ve learned. Don’t get me wrong, I love welding and everything that comes with it, but I’m trying to balance it with a somewhat normal life. I enjoyed being on the road at the time. I made a lot more money than friends who went to four-year universities. I love all the opportunities welding has given me, so if I decide to hop back on the road, all I’ve got to do is find a weld test, as I can pass pretty much anything.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I played baseball growing up, so, like many kids, I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player. But I got hurt in high school and had to stop playing.
Tell me something most people don’t know about you.
I’m extremely scared of heights, but I’ve always tried to conquer it. Working on plants, I had to work elevated, so I’ve had to man up. The only time I’m calm up high is when I’m welding with my hood down.
If you could choose to have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would that be?
My grandfather, George MacKenney III. He passed away a couple of years ago. He was in construction. He is the one guy I wish could see where I’m at work-wise right now. He’d be really proud.
If you weren’t a teacher and money was no object, what would you do?
I’d travel. I’d try to see every inch of this planet and experience different cultures and meet new people. Travel is big on my bucket list.
You get an unexpected day off, what would you do?
I’d get out and about to explore Houston. I’m Houston-born and raised, and I love everything about this city. I’d venture out and explore the culture and the museums, maybe take in a concert or a game. I love the Texans and Astros.
What was your favorite tool of the trade when you worked in the field?
I have a special tool belt and harness that I’ve been using for the last seven years. It was my grandpa’s.
What was your favorite part of the welding industry when you worked in the field?
Working on giant structures like the plants we were building. The satisfaction of being part of such big projects. Just taking a moment to think, “Wow, I helped build this!” is kind of humbling.
What advice do you have for new students who may be considering attending TWS?
Drink lots of water and put in the hard work! Do some research so you know exactly what you’re signing up for. This is a tough industry. You’ve got to really want it. But as long as you’re willing to put in the work and the time, you can succeed and go far. So stay motivated.
If you could tell anyone “thank you” for helping you become who you are today, who would that be?
Definitely my dad, Brian MacKenney. He taught me what hard work is and what dedication means. I hope that one day I will be half the man he is and have half the work ethic he has.