Robert, born in a small town in East Texas, is a Welding Instructor at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston. Robert is only 44 years old, but he’s been welding for well over 30
Thanks for your time, Robert. So you started welding real young?
Yes, Sir; overall I’ve been welding for about 33 years. I started when I was working out on a farm with my grandfather at age 10. I wanted to be a cop or a firefighter when I was a young boy, but I come from a long line of welders. My grandfather is an old pipeliner. He worked on the Alaskan pipeline. Two uncles were also pipeliners, and my dad is still working to this day as a big tank builder. I guess it’s in the blood; it’s in the
How long have you been teaching at Tulsa Welding School in Houston?
It’s been about two years now. This is my first teaching job, and I really enjoy
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What made you decided to go into teaching?
To be honest it was the only thing I could find at the time. I never saw myself as a teacher. I was always helpful; happy to help other people out and everything, but I never thought that I’d be showing people how to weld for a
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
The gratitude from the students. The way their eyes light up when they grasp what you’re telling them – the “aha” moment! Or when they come to you and ask, “What am I doing wrong?” You tell them and they say, “You’re right. I remember doing that.” Those are the moments when you know you’re making a
Although you didn’t choose teaching, are you happy with the path your career has taken?
I really enjoy it. Everything happens for a reason you know. I was with General Electric for 23 years before they closed the doors, and I was out looking for work. I firmly believe this is the path my life was chosen to take and here I
Can you see yourself teaching for the foreseeable future?
I’d like to stay here until I retire. I’m not a job hopper. Like I said, I was in my last job for over 23 years, and the only reason I’m not there today is because they closed the
What did you do for GE?
Hi-frequency welds. We repaired big gas turbine engines like the ones you find on airplanes…just ten times bigger for power plants and sewage companies, stuff like that. They’d bring the turbine into the shop. It would get broken down. We’d repair everything and put it back
If you weren’t a teacher and you could pick your job, where would you be?
I’d still be at GE. I really loved the precision welding, and the fact that we worked with a lot of exotic metals. We’d take something that was basically scrap and completely rebuilt it by hand. We’d get the parts in, rebuild them to factory tolerances and put them back in the unit. Our tolerances were held to factory specs, so parts that went back into the unit were within a thousandth of a factory manufactured part. We had customers from around the world sending us parts we were so good at what we
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you?
I’m really pretty much an open book. Everybody that comes through the school gets the opportunity to get to know the instructors, so we can build a level of trust while we’re teaching them. So there’s nothing that people don’t really know. I guess I could say I’m a big family guy. When I’m not here at work, I’m trying to spend as much time as I can with my family. I lost my mom about five years ago to cancer; that really hit home to me that I needed to start spending more time with family.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
It would be my mom. I never got to tell her I loved her before she died. She fought cancer to the very end. My brother called me at 6 a.m. one day, told me to get over there quick as they didn’t think she was going to last much longer. I live 30 minutes away so I drove 100 mph trying to get there. He called me as I was turning on to the street to tell me to slow down as she’d passed away.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting?
Take advantage of your time here. You’re paying good money to go to school, and you have a total of 16 hours each day that you can come here and work. The campus opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 11:45 p.m. If you don’t have a job and you’re just focusing on school, take advantage of it. Stay here and practice, practice, practice…because the more you practice, the better you’re going to get. Take advantage of that opportunity while it’s available to you.
I’ve seen people come in and stay here for 10-12 hours a day, five days week, working on their craft. They’re literally eating, sleeping, breathing welding and those are the guys that don’t have any problems at all when they leave here.
Do you see students of all ages come through the school?
The oldest gentleman I’ve taught was 65 years old. He was retired and wanted something to do around his house. He builds hog cages, deer stands, barbecue pits – stuff like that and sells it. He wanted something to do to stay active and have some extra money coming in.
What’s your favorite tool? What could you not do without?
It would have to be my hood because it does so many different things. The main function of it is to allow you to apply your craft – to look through it and weld – but you can also use it as a shield to grind with…it’s just a multi-faceted tool.
Thinking of your time in the field, what was your favorite part of the job?
The finished product – seeing it go out the door and not come back; the customer satisfaction side of it I guess you could say. I love to work with my hands, and I love to take something that’s basically scrap or junk and rebuild it to almost make a masterpiece out of it.
Tell us about your family.
I’ve got two sons, 23 and 24. One of them is kind of following in my footsteps. He’s a pipefitter and does minor welding on the side. The other one works for Pepsi-Cola.
You get an unexpected afternoon to yourself. What would you do with that time?
I’d catch up on stuff around the house, my to-do list. Stuff I’ve been putting off because I don’t have the time when I get off work. I also love to cook, so I might cook up a decent size meal for the rest of the week. It’s funny you ask that question because just last week we had a rainstorm pop up that knocked the power out. They sent us all home about 1:45 p.m. That’s exactly what I did. I texted my girlfriend, told her I was heading home to cook, and told her to swing by and pick up dinner for her and her kids.
If you were to tell someone, “Thank You” for making you who you are today, who would it be & why?
My dad, Jimmy Richardson. Although my grandfather was really the one that started me out welding, it’s my dad who took the time and patience to teach me how to hone my craft and do it right.
I also want to mention my stepdad, James Kirkham. He still runs the business my mom and he had together. That’s where I spend a lot of my time, at that house with him. My real dad lives two hours away; that’s too far to drive over on a whim you know. Both of these men had a critical role in raising me, teaching me my work ethic, and how to be a man and take care of a family.
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