Sergio, age 19, from Manning, South Carolina, graduated from the Professional Welder program at the Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus, in 2017.
Thanks for your time, Sergio. What made you choose welding?
I went to a vocational high school that had a welding program. Ever since I first tried welding, I just loved everything about it. I did three years of welding in high school.
When you first started in high school, did you think of it as a potential career?
I first saw welding on a class tour of the high school, and when I saw that blue light, I thought it was cool. Then when the instructor was telling us about how you put molten metal together, I started to think of it as a job, and that made me love it even more!
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Did you have any experience welding outside of high school?
My first welding job was with a mom and pop welding shop in my home town in high school. It started out as work experience, to learn a little about how it is in the field. It was a typical low-budget welding job, but I made the best of it and got kind of an idea how everything worked in the field.
What made you choose Tulsa Welding School?
I got introduced to Tulsa when an enrollment advisor came to tell us about the programs in 11th grade. At first I was kind of skeptical. I was young and didn’t want to be too far away from home, but I learned so many good things about the school. I thought “What the heck? I’m going to give it a go!” I love educating myself. I never settle for knowing just one thing; I like to know everything I can.
So at 18 you moved down to Jacksonville. How was that?
I was a little nervous at first, but it was fine. I’ve always been kind of mature for my age. My mom had always wanted me prepared for the real world. She taught me to put away my boyish ways and learn responsibility young. In high school, I worked three jobs and bought my first car. So I got myself a part-time job down there, too.
Going to Tulsa Welding School was second nature for me. I knew I had to be there on time, and I knew that I had to make the most of it while I was there, because five hours a day isn’t a lot of time. Welding takes years to master, so I needed to make the best of my time there.
What was your favorite part about the program?
I loved the way the instructors see the best in you when you don’t even see the best in yourself. They always push you, encouraging you not to settle for something that could be better. They push you to work hard and give it your best. I also loved the place itself, down to the artwork on the wall when you first go into the school.
Where are you working now?
I’m currently in Savannah, Georgia. Shuntae Lee, my career services advisor at Tulsa, helped me get a job with JCB. It’s a wonderful company—one of the top three agricultural and construction equipment companies in the world. I’m welding gas tanks onto brand new tractors. I’ve been there about a month, and I love it.
What was it like getting your first paycheck with them?
It was amazing! What I made in a month at my other part-time jobs I made in a week at JCB.
Did you do anything exciting with it?
I just saved it. I want to buy a new Mustang, so I’m saving up for that. Another three months or so, and I can buy one with cash.
What is your career plan from here?
I’d like to work my way up to a plant manager here with JCB. I’ve fallen in love with this company. I have my 401k set up. I have full benefits. It’s crazy but when I was younger my mom would take us on trips everywhere, and I’d always see this plant from the freeway. I loved those tractors, so it’s a blessing to say I work for them, that I’m an employee at this plant.
Unless something else comes around—you always have to keep your options open—I could stay with JCB until I retire, and if things work out, that could be at 40 because I’ve started so young. I’d also like to own my own small business on the side that I can invest in, like a small welding shop, to keep income coming in.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
I love the bragging rights. Not a lot of people know how to weld. If people know anything about welders, they know they make good money, but they probably don’t know anything about the job. When you’re talking to another welder, you always get round to talking about what you’ve welded. That’s when TWS comes into play. I can go down a long list. They taught me how to weld everything. Anything you can do to land you a good job, they taught you.
Did you make some connections at welding school?
I was always a loner. I believe in getting stuff done. I moved away from home to go to welding school, and I didn’t want to get distracted. I wanted to keep my eye on the ball. I made a few associates, but we don’t really stay in contact. I mostly stay in contact with the instructors.
What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?
If you don’t know what to do, go to Tulsa Welding School! When you get to Tulsa, work hard and always give your best. And listen! I always say, “God gave you two ears, two eyes, but only one mouth!” That means you need to listen and watch more than you speak! Don’t be a know-it-all. If you stay humble and work hard, good things will come to you. There will be times when you’re going to be tired, aggravated and stressed out, but that’s life. You’ve got to push through it, keep focused, work hard and know that it’s all going to pay off in the long run.
I’d also say that you can’t be in welding just for the money. You have to love what you do. If you don’t love it, you’re not going to give it your all. I don’t feel like I’m working. I feel like I’m doing what I love, and somebody happens to pay me for it.
If you’re a TWS graduate and would like to share your success and be an inspiration to others, please email Social@StrataTech.com to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), program, and campus name (Tulsa/Jacksonville/Houston).