Blake Comeaux, age 23, is from Youngsville, Louisiana. He enrolled in the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in July 2010, just six weeks after graduating high school. About midway through the program, Blake decided he wanted to be able to take his welding career to the next level. That’s why, after successfully completing the Professional Welder training program, he went on to earn his Associate of Occupational Studies in Welding Technology. He completed his degree in December 2011.
Thanks for sharing your story Blake. Was your plan to get a degree when you first enrolled at TWS?
My plan was to just do the seven month Professional Welder program. But as I started to learn more about the Welding Technology program. I became interested, so that’s the direction I decided to take. After completing the Master Welder program I came home for two weeks, took some time to gather some things, then headed back to Tulsa to start the Associate’s program.
What made you choose welding as a career?
The interest is really because of where I’m from. The oil field is a big deal down in south Louisiana, I was surrounded by it. Almost all my older brothers are welders, and they make really good money. I decided it was something I’d like to get into. It’s an art, and not something everybody can do. I started welding as a freshman in high school. I welded on various types of equipment, and I went to a technical college to attend a welding program my senior year of high school. I liked it, so I pursued welding as a career.
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How did you combine high school and a welding program at a technical college?
In high school we were on block scheduling. One day you have four classes, the next day you have four classes. By the time I got to my senior year, I had all but two of the credits I needed to graduate. So I only had to take two classes on my A days, so on my B days I went to the technical college.
What was the favorite part about the TWS program and why?
Really, it was the encouragement of the staff. They’ve got a great staff. They really push you and explain your options should you go on to finish; they give you something to look forward to at the end of it all. They were very helpful. If you didn’t get it, they’d be in there with you helping you. The availability that the school offers you is excellent. You could go to class from 7am to lunchtime, but you can go back any time. You could go to the afternoon or night class and participate, or go in on the weekends too.
The accessibility they give you to continue to learn and drive forward is second to none. They offer you the chance to spend as much time as you need under the hood. They give you opportunities you won’t get anywhere else, opportunities you definitely don’t get at a technical school or community college.
Did you feel like you were on your way to becoming a specialist when you left TWS?
When I left TWS I felt like nothing was going to stop me. I felt confident enough to pass any welding test I needed to get a job. I felt confident that I could prove to people I knew what I was doing. I was one of those guys who went back in for the afternoon or the night classes. I went in on the weekends. All the instructors had different types of backgrounds, and I did my best to build a relationship with each one of them so that I could gain as much knowledge as possible about the industry. I really felt good about myself when I left.
Tell me more about the Welding Technology degree program.
The Associate’s program teaches you a variety of things. I mean they teach just about everything that you need to know to be able to start a successful career. They teach you everything from NDE [non-destructive examination] processes, to code books, to welding procedures, specifications, different types of testing, and more. When you come out of that program, you’ve got something to be proud of because the instructor is a tough cookie. He wants you to work for that degree. He was there to help, to explain things; he’s a very knowledgeable guy who’s been in the industry for a long time.
How long did it take you to get your first job after graduating?
It wasn’t but two weeks after. I came home, enjoyed Christmas and New Years and went to work in my first QC [Quality Control] inspector job. I worked for Frank’s International; I went straight into QC and gained my hours to become a Level 2 Inspector. I did all their in-house NDE for magnetic particle testing (MT), penetrant testing (PT) and visual testing (VT).
That first welding paycheck, were you excited? What did you do with it?
It was incredible. From working at UPS (while at TWS) to working in the oil field…oh man! I was really excited! When you go from making $100+ a week to making a couple of thousand a week, it’s pretty nice. I went directly to the bank and opened checking and savings accounts. I didn’t do anything too crazy with that first check. After about eight months I bought a new truck, but that’s pretty much it. I just try and save as much as I can. I was very blessed to be presented that opportunity at the age of 19…and I took it.
Where are you working now?
I stayed with Frank’s for about a year. They paid for me to become certified in several NDE processes. Then I decided to go out on my own and get my CWI (Certified Welding Inspector) certification. When Cameron offered me an opportunity, I decided there was more to learn here as Cameron fabricates a variety of things rather than specializing in one field of service. The pay was a lot better too. I’ve been with Cameron for three years and have no intentions of leaving.
Where do you want your career to go from here?
I have three options I’m looking at for the future. I’d like to get into construction management with Cameron, which is basically running projects and working closely with customers to ensure satisfaction; or I’d like to work towards becoming a Quality Manager and ensure the quality of our products are second to none. The third option is to do third party inspections and have a test lab. I’d offer my services up to clients like Shell or Chevron and do vendor surveillance for them. I’d make sure their projects are in compliance with codes and standards. I’d report directly to them but work for myself. I would also be able to offer testing through the lab that they may not have access to at their facilities.
At 23, you still have time to do all three! What would your dream job be?
I think the third one. I’d love to own my own third party inspection company and be able to offer my third party surveillance services to a variety of companies. I would love to offer a variety of things at my test lab ranging from welder qualification testing, NDE testing, qualifications of weld procedures, impact testing, and many more options for my clients. It would be pretty cool to be the boss of that.
How did you manage to go straight into a QC job straight from welding school?
I know they have starting positions, just pulling dimensions. At the interview I told them I was very familiar with all the testing procedures, but they had me start out just doing visuals and dimensionals. After a couple of weeks I asked my boss if he’d give me a chance at getting my Level Two for magnetic particle testing (MT) and penetrant testing (PT). He asked if I thought I was ready, if I needed to study, but I told him that I thought I knew about as much as I needed to know. I passed both of them!
So had you come out of the seven month program, that inspector job wouldn’t have been an option?
I wouldn’t have even qualified for a QC position had I not done that extra seven/eight months.
What’s your favorite aspect of your new trade? What do you enjoy most?
The finished product. Seeing the look on the customer’s face when they come and look at their unit or vessel, and they say “job well done.” When Cameron gets the signed check and the client is happy, that’s what I like. There’s nothing like working on a project for 12+ months, putting blood, sweat and tears into it, and then be able to stand back and be proud of it.
Did you make those lasting connections at school?
This past weekend I had two TWS buddies come down and spend New Year’s with us. We all get together three or four times every year; we’re best friends. We met at school and never broke that connection.
After graduating the Professional Welder program, I had several friends call, not knowing that I’d gone on to the Associate’s Degree program, to tell me they were looking for welders. Then coming out of the Associate’s program, I had two buddies call to offer me inspection jobs. One was right there in Tulsa and another in Dallas. These are all guys I went to school with, which is why I say it’s important to make friends and connections.
Would you recommend the Associate’s Degree program?
It’s definitely something I’d recommend considering. I’ve got no regrets at all. I figured in the long run it would more than pay for itself. You can almost count on the fact that an inspector is going to make more than a welder, and they don’t have to physically work as hard as a welder. A physical job does not bother me at all, but when I get to be 40 or 50 years old, then that’s when it’s going to take its toll on my body. That’s why I was looking down the road at the long run.
What do you do for fun?
Hunting, fishing, and eating crawfish, that’s my life. And church!
If you were a millionaire for a day, what would you do?
Pay off my bills, donate to my church and then buy some land. You can never go wrong with buying land.
What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?
Be engaged. Stay under the hood, keep them rods burning, and put the time in because it’s going to be worth it when it’s all over with. Make connections too. Make as many friends as you can, whether it’s with students or instructors. People come to TWS from all over the country, which means jobs all over the country. You get calls from guys all over the country with job offers. Build your own network.
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).