Chris, age 19 from Colorado, graduated from the seven-month Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in March 2018.
Thanks for your time, Chris. Did you go straight into welding school from high school?
I graduated high school and had two months before I started at Tulsa. I worked at a gas station and used that money to buy a car to drive from Colorado to Tulsa. It was good for me. Our family doesn’t have a lot of money, so we have to work for what we want. It was how I was raised. If you really want something, you really have to work hard to get it.
Why did you choose welding out of high school?
I didn’t know anything about welding until an enrollment advisor from Tulsa Welding School came to talk to us at high school. I became very interested because it was only a seven-month program. I thought I’d much rather do that than go to a four-year college.
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So you had no experience of welding?
None at all. I’d not done any welding in my entire life. I don’t have family connections to welding, either.
What did the enrollment advisor say that sparked your interest?
There were three things. First, the program was only seven months long. Second, the fact that companies come to the school to look for graduates. Third, it’s mainly hands-on learning.
I wanted to go to this school because I knew I probably wouldn’t last in college. I don’t really like reading or writing essays. I don’t really like sitting in class. I prefer doing things with my hands. I like projects and physical work rather, than staring at a screen.
How did your time at welding school compare to high school?
The only thing I enjoyed at high school was sports. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy college, either, but welding school was the complete opposite. I enjoyed every bit of it. It was so fun that I’d even find myself bored on the weekends. I’d say “Man, why can’t we have school on Sundays, too?” It was so much fun! It was a very good experience for me.
Having no welding experience, was it hard?
I knew I’d have to work hard, and that’s what I did. I knew I had to try my best, because if I couldn’t pass this program, then I didn’t know what else I’d do. This was my only option. I didn’t have a back-up plan. I worked hard and did really well. It wasn’t that hard if you put the work in. There is a little bookwork involved, but it’s mostly just practicing on your welds and trying to get better.
Being 18 and out of state, did you parents keep an eye on you from afar?
When my parents found out I was going to welding school, my mother was scared! She’d call and ask, “How was school? Did you get hurt? Do I need to come down there?” I had to reassure her that I was safe, having fun and that this was good for me. I told her that they’d taught us how to be safe. My dad made it a competition. How good was I compared to the rest? He wanted me to push myself to be the best welder in class. They are proud of me. I’m the first one in the family to have a trade job.
What was the best part of going to Tulsa Welding School?
All the teachers there are really nice. Honestly, they become your best friends in every phase. I concentrated on my welding, so I didn’t hang out much with other students. When you focus on your welding, since it’s only five or six hours, it flies by so quick.
Who are you working for?
I started with FLSmidth a week ago. I’m in Belleville, Illinois. I’m training at one of their companies. They flew me up here to practice on their machinery, get licensed on their vehicles and get qualified in the way they do things. I’ll be here for another week, and then I’ll be out on my first job somewhere.
Congratulations! How did you get the job?
I told Career Services that I’d like to find a job that would involve travel. They helped me. They talked to FLSmidth, and then the company came down the day after I graduated. They interviewed 8 to 10 students. They hired two of us, and I was one of them.
What will you do for them? How will it work?
It’s structural welding. I’ll get a phone call telling me there’s a job starting somewhere. If I want it, they’ll book my plane ticket, rental car and hotel, and off I go. When I’m home, I won’t be getting paid, but I don’t expect to be home too much. Some jobs could last a couple of weeks, some a few months. It depends on the project. I could be working at a mine, at the ocean or out on a big old pipeline.
You’ve only just started, but do you have a career plan?
My plan is stay in this job because it’s a traveling job and that’s what I wanted. I’m not always going to be in the United States. There are jobs in Canada or even Hong Kong. Since I’m still young, I’m looking forward to traveling the world for the job.
What do you enjoy most about your trade?
Just how much fun it is! You know how kids always want to play with fire? Well, in this job, you’re literally playing with fire for a living. When I’m welding, I’m actually doing something exciting, not sitting in a classroom.
You haven’t gotten your first paycheck yet, but are you excited about the earning potential?
I can’t wait for my first payday! It’ll start small, but after a while, it will start building up. I have a long way to go in this career.
What advice would you give to new students at TWS?
Keep working hard. Don’t fool around, or you’ll fall behind. Welding is really not that hard if you pay attention, ask questions and practice. I’d never welded before, and it’s easy to learn if you put the work in. It’s only seven months, and it will go by so fast. If you work hard and have the right attitude, you’ll probably get a job right after.
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).