Ryan, age 29 from Davidson, Oklahoma, graduated from the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in July 2019.
Thanks for your time, Ryan. Tell us what you did before welding school.
I was in the military for six years. I joined the Air Force at 18. I was a joint task force radio guy. Once my enlistment was up, I got into the oil fields. I did gas, water and oil measurement, and instrumentation programming in plants and in the field. I had my own business, essentially. I was making good money, as much as $20,000 a month! I had no complaints on the income side, and I was good at it, but it wasn’t what I was passionate about.
Wow, that’s a lot of money! How long did you do that?
For a couple of years. But I also got into building cotton gins with a guy in my town. It was a seasonal thing. When I got done with the gins, I’d go back to the oil fields. The money was good, but I was on the road all the time. I’d be gone 21 days, then come home for a couple of days, and then go back for 21 more days. It was wearing on me.
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What made you think about welding?
I really liked doing the cotton gin work. There was a lot of welding involved. Last year we finished up the season with cotton gins, and instead of going back to the oil fields I decided that I wanted to weld. That was what I was passionate about. I wanted to just weld all the time.
Did you first start welding when you were young?
No. My dad welded, but he didn’t teach me. I started last year. I bought my own welding machine and taught myself. I discovered I enjoyed it more than bolting stuff together and cutting things out.
Why did you decide to go to welding school?
I needed to learn how to weld better, how to pass weld tests. Nobody I knew could teach me how to pass the tests that would get me to the next level. I wanted to take what I had learned myself and get better. I decided there was no better place to go than Tulsa Welding School.
Why last year?
The time was right. I had made a bunch of money in previous years and sat on it. My wife and kids came with me and we lived in our fifth wheel. The school worked with my GI Bill®, so that’s why I decided to go for it. I’d found my passion. I was fortunate enough to be able to focus on school and not have to work for seven months. I treated it like a job. I wasn’t there to waste time. It’s hard to go back to school at 28 with a bunch of 18-year olds. It’s hard to be a little older and be around a lot of kids.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
I really liked the instructors. Some people cuss about Tulsa Welding School, but in my experience, they were the ones who didn’t care. They just showed up, did the minimum, and left. They are mad that they are not the best welder around. But the instructors can see if you care or don’t care. I’m a believer that at Tulsa Welding School, you 100% get out of it what you put in. The instructors never turned me away. They all have so much knowledge, and they want to teach you. Once you get out in the world, people aren’t going to teach you how to do this stuff. It’s a bunch of grown men who had to learn the hard way. They aren’t going to hold your hand. So if you can be a grownup, you will learn a lot about welding.
You graduated just a couple of months ago, where are you working?
I jumped straight into a turnaround/shutdown company called Global Industrial. We are building a paper mill right now in Oklahoma. I’m welding pipe every single day. I’ve passed all my x-rays, had no repairs. The way that shutdown work works is that you don’t necessarily stick with one company. You kind of get into the circuit. You bounce around where the work is. Right after this I’m leaving to do a shutdown at a nuclear plant in Kentucky.
Didn’t you say that you wanted to travel less?
I’m taking this year to travel and make some money. I bought my fifth wheel last year, so my wife Hayley and our two boys—aged 3 and 1—can come with me. We will work our way toward Michigan, which is where my parents live. We can go visit, and I can make money there. That’s the cool thing about welding. You can do it anywhere. The job site in Kentucky is five hours from where my family stays. If I do a good job on this shutdown, then in three or four months, there will be another and they’ll call me back.
Is the money good for the Kentucky job?
They are paying $38 an hour, $120 a day per diem. It’s a double time company, so I’m going to work 7/12s and make $5,000 a week. I’ll do that for eight weeks, then take a break for a while. That’s where my own business comes in to play. I have a welding truck with a welder and all my own tools. I stay busy in between shutdowns and make some money—not enough to get rich, but I’ll stay busy, and then go hit another shutdown for a couple of months and then come home.
What does your career plan look like?
My goal is not to do this my whole life. This is a steppingstone to get to my own business going. I can hit a couple of shutdowns, then take time between jobs to build my own thing. Being able to do the pipe welding, being certified and all that, opens a lot more doors. I could potentially have my own shutdown business. I could go to local industrial companies and try to get their work. If I maintain a good network, then I can maybe call up guys and have them come work with me. That’s kind of my plan.
What do you enjoy most about welding?
I like the fact that it’s kind of peaceful in a sense. You don’t have to think about anything else while you’re welding. You just focus on what’s going on in front of you, and everything else just goes away. I also like the fabrication part of it. I like being able to create something from nothing. At the end of the day, I can say “I built that!” That’s pretty cool!
Did you make some lasting connections at welding school?
I still talk to a lot of the guys. It’s a real good thing, because if you’re ever in a jam, there are people you can call. There may come a time in a year or two when I need guys to work with me.
What advice would you give to people about to start at Tulsa Welding School?
The best way to be successful is to not be discouraged. You are there to learn. You have to accept that you’re not going to be perfect every time. You can’t get better if you don’t make mistakes; that’s how you learn. That’s how people get discouraged. They shoot for perfection and get discouraged when they aren’t perfect. People get things at different paces, so don’t get discouraged if it takes you longer to get there than others. Stay dedicated, motivated, figure it out and keep going. 100% you are going to get out of Tulsa Welding School what you put into it. If you do that, you’ll be successful. If you want to become a good welder, you have to do the work. No one can do it for you.
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).