Chad, aged 25 from New Orleans, Louisiana, graduated from the seven-month Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in January 2018.
Thanks for your time, Chad. What did you do before welding school?
I worked for a furniture store, and also for Pizza Hut for about a year and half. I also did a little construction. I enrolled in community college to become a CNC machinist, but I didn’t like it too much. It didn’t catch my attention like I thought it would. It’s hard to go to school every day if you’re not really interested.
Why did you decide to go to welding school?
My Uncle Shamus is a welder. He told me I should jump into welding school. I said no because I didn’t know too much about it. He’d say, “You see how I’m living? I’m comfortable, huh? Going to welding school will change your life, man!” After that conversation I started hearing “welding this, welding that” all the time. I thought maybe I should jump into it.
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Did you look at welding schools in New Orleans?
The community college where I did the machinist program had a welding program, but I thought about what I was going through in New Orleans and my living conditions. I figured I wouldn’t be able to focus mentally if I did a welding program down there.
Is that what brought you to Houston?
I came to Houston one weekend and crossed paths with my father. He and I hadn’t had a connection since I was 15 or 16. He invited me to his house and showed me the lifestyle and how different it was from New Orleans. It got me thinking that I could be a welder out here. I could focus on school because I didn’t know anybody. I went home and thought about it. I could hear my uncle in my head—”Welding is going to change your life”—so three weeks later I packed up and came to Houston.
Did you know about Tulsa Welding School in Houston?
When I came to Houston, I focused on getting a job so I could have money to get back and forth to a welding school. Texas is huge. Everywhere you go, you’ve got to travel 35 to 40 minutes, so that’s a lot of gas! Once I finally got settled, I googled welding schools. Tulsa came up, so I made an appointment.
How did you get on?
The first month, I was ready to quit. It was my first time welding and I just couldn’t get it, and man it was hot! I started getting frustrated. I had my uncle on standby, so when I was having problems, I’d call him. He’d tell me to keep my head. He’d say, “You’re going to learn. Everything is repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s a long ride, but once you get there, it’s going to change your life!”
That kept me motivated. Once I started to understand that, it got easier. Like he said: repetition. Once I started doing the same thing over and over, it started to fall into line for me, and I started getting into it.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
I enjoyed that everything was hands-on. It wasn’t sitting in a class and reading books to learn welding. Yeah, we had class, but it was just one day a week. That was cool. The instructors really tried to show you the way. It wasn’t what I was used to. They actually took their time and showed you how to do it.
Where did you live during school?
I was with my father for a second, then things went south. I was homeless lived in my car for five months of the program. I’d treat myself to a hotel maybe once a week, but I had a phone bill, a car note and insurance. My job paid me $7.25 an hour, so I’d get maybe $500 every two weeks. As soon as I touched it, it was gone, so I had no money for rent. That’s another reason I wanted to quit school and go back home. I didn’t have a support system here. The only person I had was my father and he turned his back on me.
Where did you work?
I worked retail from 9:oo a.m. to 6:00 p.m., then went to school from 6:45 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. When I got out, I had to figure out where I was going to lay my head, what I was going to eat and how I am going to shower. A lot of days, I didn’t sleep, eat or shower. My uncle told me I was in a messed-up predicament, but I’d get through it. He told me not to come back to New Orleans. It would be worth it in the end.
But you went back after graduation?
I planned on staying in Houston, but there was a lot going on back home. Some family got killed, so I had to go back, be around love and get support, you know? I tried to get a welding job for a while, but it was hard with no experience, so I went back to Pizza Hut to keep the money flowing. I fell back into my life before school. Things went south with my job. I was catching attitude from people. My uncle told me I was tripping, that I needed to go back to Texas because I had a specialist skill. I was better than that. That’s when I started thinking about getting back to welding.
Did you work with the Career Services team?
I hollered at Mr. Donnie Whiters in Career Services—they’re the real MVPs right there—because I’d always kept in touch with him when I was home. He used to send me jobs that were around Lafayette or Baton Rouge, but I didn’t have anywhere to go to brush up for weld tests. I hadn’t welded in four or five months. That’s when I decided to go back to Houston so I could prep for tests.
So who are you working for now?
I’m an MIG and TIG welder for Flo Trend. Mr. Whiters got me the opportunity, and I passed six weld tests with flying colors! I spent four days at school preparing for those tests. Welding is just like riding a bike! Even though I hadn’t done it for a long time, once you get back to it, you know what you’re doing.
You just got your first welding paycheck. Was that exciting?
The paycheck is sweet, but my goal is higher. I’m making $14 an hour right now, but this is my first welding job. I’ve never been paid $14 an hour to do anything. When needed, there’s overtime, which is time and a half.
What’s your career plan from here?
Everything is up from here. I don’t want to do anything else but be a welder. I’m a combination welder, so I can do all kinds of welds. My focus is my pay. I’m trying to touch $38 to $40 an hour. My next step is to make $17 an hour, then $20+, then up and up. I’d never been out of Louisiana until I came to Texas. If I get the opportunity to travel and make top dollar, then I’m all for it.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
Welding is a skill. Not everybody can pick up a rod and fuse two metals together. It feels good to call myself a welder. When I got my diploma, I didn’t feel like I was a welder, I just knew how to weld. I can do something that most people can’t and that makes me feel special. I can do things on my own financially. I can get nice things and have money for bills. I’m not used to that.
What do you say to your Uncle Shamus?
I love him! He changed my life. I’m not making top dollar yet, but I’m making a lot more than I did. There are steps to this. Not everybody gets everything day one. Everything in welding is a competition.
What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?
Get into it. Keep moving. Don’t give up, because at the end it’s going to change your life. Tulsa will put you on the right path, but it’s all up to you. You have to go and get it for yourself. There’s only so much people can do to help you. You have to help yourself. I wanted to help myself. That’s why I moved out of my environment to better my life. The streets took me under, but I got out. I had to do what was best for me. I worked hard, kept going and now I have an apartment, I’m a welder, and the only way is up!
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).