Brandon, aged 19 from Houston, Texas, graduated from the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in June 2018.
Thanks for sharing your story, Brandon. What made you choose welding out of high school?
My cousin is a welder. He travels all over the world, so I thought that could be me. I got to pick an elective in my last year of high school, and I chose welding. That feeling when you spark it up, that you’re melting metal together, it’s pretty cool. I’d compare my welds to other guys’ welds. I knew I had it going on, but I’d always try to make my welds better. The only way to learn is to mess up and keep going.
Why did you decide to go to a welding school?
I didn’t have the experience that employers looks for, and I wanted to learn to weld different positions and processes. I actually wanted to go to the Tulsa campus, to get that experience of moving away from home. But I realized it’d be better to stay in Houston. It’s a bigger city with more opportunities. You know this is crazy because when I was in high school, I’d look at the Tulsa Welding School website and read these graduate interview stories, and now I’m going to be one of them!
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Did you look at other welding schools?
I looked at another school that has a two-year welding program. But the way they described it, it didn’t seem like there was as much hands-on time. At Tulsa, you’re welding every day, other than one day a week in class. You can come in early and stay after. There just seemed to be better opportunities.
Did you always want to be a welder?
I wanted to be an engineer, but I looked at how much math and science there was, and four years at college was too long. During high school, I worked two jobs. I’d see the paychecks that pipeliners put up on Instagram and social media, and I was like wow, these guys make more in a week than I do in two months.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
The instructors, especially Arturo in 120 [Advanced Pipe Welding]. It was mostly TIG, and that phase is really hard, but he got in the booth with me. He actually grabbed my hand and showed me how to do it. We still keep in contact, and I still go visit the school. Also, the people I met there, the good friends I made, people of different ages. I met this older dude Chris. He’s like 27, and we’re good friends. He and I would always push each other to keep our grades up and stay long hours.
You graduated four weeks ago. Did you work with Career Services to get a job?
Chris and I made sure everybody at school knew our names, especially all the instructors and the guys in Career Services-LaTorria and Donnie. They’d see our faces every week, and we’d say, “You got jobs for us?” It was around April when they told us UTLX were coming in for a job fair.
We had interviews on Wednesday, and Chris and I both got scheduled for a weld test on that Friday. I didn’t expect the test to be that fast, so on the Thursday in between, we were at school from the moment it opened until 11 p.m., just practicing.
Is that who you’re working for now?
Yes, UTLX – Union Tank Car. Man, I was nervous. It was my first weld test, I thought I was going to fail. After the test, I finished first and walked out. The guy said, “Where are you going, man? You passed all seven tests!” I filled out some paperwork, did the drug test the next week and started work in May. I still had two phases to finish in school, so I had to switch my shift from morning class to afternoon. I’d work 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., then go to school and stay late after. I was basically working all day and into the night.
Does Chris work there, too?
He actually passed the test, but he got in with Milestone Metals here in Houston. They do the tall buildings in downtown.
What’s your career plan from here?
I want to be on the pipelines. That’s my goal. Chris and I figure we’ll do it together. So right now we’re working as much as we can, building our experience and trying to put money aside to get a rig and see the country. I’ll probably stay here at UTLX for a couple of years, just slowly working my way up to get more experience, get a truck and get a rig ready. I’m looking at contacts to get onto the pipeline. I’d have to go on as a helper, but that might be the door opener for me.
Was it exciting to get your first welding paycheck?
Back in high school, I only saw two zeroes on my pay checks. When I saw three zeroes, I was like, wow! I’m making $25 per hour and $36 per hour overtime. It’s crazy. Around this time last year, I was working part-time making $7.50 an hour. One year on, I’m making more than triple that!
Did you do anything exciting with your first check?
I paid my parents’ electricity bill. They paid for my school, so I want to help them as much as I can. But they’re very proud of me because I put in a lot of work.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
Just having the hood over my head and holding the stinger, doing something I like, something I won’t get tired of and having some cash, being able to pay for other peoples’ stuff. Back in high school, a lot of kids were going to college. When I told them I was going to Tulsa Welding School, they doubted me. Now I tell them I’m making more than their parents and they’ve got three more years of school. By November, I’m looking to buy a 2018 truck. They’re going to be like, “Dang!!”
Did you make some connections, some friends, at Tulsa Welding School?
My class all got along, but there were three buddies I was close with. We still keep in contact. It’s crazy because I was the youngest one. They were all in their 20s and had babies. It was cool, though. The vibe you get there, it’s like you’re already working and they’re your co-workers.
What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?
Just put in all the hours you can. When you get a 15-minute break, take 15 minutes. Don’t take an hour. You won’t be able to do that on the job, so why do it at school? Enjoy it, make friends, work together and make good connections with your instructors because they’re the ones who have all the experience.
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).