Graduate Connections – Meet Elicia Swain

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Elicia, from Houston, Texas, graduated from the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in October 2018. Elicia, a mom of four girls and a boy, had no prior welding experience.

Thanks for sharing your story, Elicia. Tell us about life before Tulsa Welding School.

I’ve had a number of jobs—janitor, loader, driver, order puller at Wal-Mart—but never a stable career. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. A few years ago, I went to cosmetology school because I have a passion for beauty, but I didn’t like working around women—too much drama—so that didn’t work out. A year later, I went to school to be a surgical technician, but I don’t like blood, needles and that icky stuff. So that was the wrong decision. I should have done more research!

How did you decide on welding?

Welding was completely new for me. I wanted to be financially stable for me and my kids. My fiancé told me about his cousin who is a woman welder. He told me she makes good money and I should look into it. I used to work as a janitor at a chemical plant. I would see women welders there, and it was exciting to me to watch them work.

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What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?

The friendships I created and the instructors. They are all pretty down to earth. They don’t talk down to you, they talk to you grown-up to grown-up, which I appreciated. I also loved the classroom days. I could dress up to show how feminine I am. The rest of the week I had to cover up and tie up my hair out in the shop.

Were there other women in your class?

I was the only woman!

And how was that experience?

It was great. I loved it. Everyone was nice, and so helpful. To tell the truth, they all helped me so much, I think I became a better welder than they were.

Have you encountered any sexism in a male dominated environment?

Not at school, but at the job site, where I’m working now, I feel it sometimes—you know, that “women shouldn’t be welders” attitude. But it really doesn’t bother me. I knew what I was up against. It just motivates me to go to work every day and weld as well as I can. I like to show off. I’m very competitive.

Did it surprise you that you grew to love welding?

It surprised me when the sparks didn’t bother me anymore. I love seeing my patterns, and I love the different techniques we use to make different patterns in the weld. I really love welding.

Elicia Swain 2

How long did it take to find a welding job?

Not even a week after graduation. I was the first of my friends to get a job welding.

Where are you working? How did you find it so quickly?

I work for Southwest Shipyard. The career services team organized a job fair about a week before graduation, and Southwest was there. I wasn’t focused on them at first. I was looking at another company, but their person scared me off. When I went to speak with the shipyard, I really liked that their representative was a woman, a lady from HR. She was so polite, well-mannered. I took their information and talked with an instructor after. He knew the test I had to take for the job and helped me practice.

Was it exciting to get your first paycheck?

Yes, it was exciting! I loved it, and I get paid every week. It’s really a blessing. I work all week, so I really don’t have time to go shopping like I used to. I’m saving right now because I’m in the process of moving. I just want to save my money and decorate my new house.

Are you happy with the money you’re making?

I’m making double what I was making before, and I love my hours, 7 am to 3 pm. I can work weekends at time and a half if I want to. I go to work on Saturdays, but not on Sundays, as I go to church.

What’s your career plan from here?

I want to stay with Southwest Shipyard for at least a couple of years. I would like to become a welding inspector one day. I really want this career to lead to me becoming a welding inspector.

What do you enjoy most about being a welder?

The shocked look on people’s faces when I say I’m a welder, because I’m so girly. It’s all Hispanic guys at work, so not only am I the only female welder, I’m also the only black person on the crew. I just love the look on their faces. It makes me smile all the time. They can’t believe I’m a welder. My family told me I was too girly to be a welder, but now they are proud of me.

You have four daughters under eight. Are they proud of you?

They are. Every time the Tulsa Welding School commercial comes on TV, they say, that’s what mommy does!

Did you make some lasting connections at school?

I have two good friends. As a woman, I didn’t feel right talking to all the men. I didn’t want to start rumors, so I only hung out with two guys. They made sure I wasn’t left behind on anything. We have a group chat set up on Facebook Messenger, so I talk to them every day. I’m trying to get one of my friends on at the shipyard, so we look out for one another.

What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?

The day I went in to Tulsa for a tour, I sat in my car for an hour trying to pump myself up to go in. I’d seen nothing but men go through the door, and I was scared. After an hour, I decided I was just going to do it, and that was the best decision of my life. I’m so happy I went in and talked to Sandra; she made me feel so relaxed. She took me through the school on a tour and I saw some guys weld.

After I walked in the door, it was a piece of cake, the best decision of my life. I thank Tulsa Welding School every day for helping become the woman I was supposed to be.

Elicia Swain 1

Do you have any specific advice for women reading this?

My advice for women is, just do it. You have to be self-motivated and be determined to succeed. Some women sit at home and pray for a good man with a good job who will take care of them. You can be successful. You can have a good job. You just have to go get it. Don’t doubt yourself. Anything a man can do, a woman can do, too. There is nothing to be scared of at all for a woman at Tulsa Welding School.

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).