Billy, 52, from Jacksonville, Florida, is the Director Training at Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus. Billy has been at Tulsa Welding School for a year; he joined the team as an Electrical Instructor.
Thanks for your time, Billy. What’s your trade and how many years’ experience do you have?
I’m a state-licensed electrical contractor. I started at 16, so that makes it 36 years that I’ve been doing this. I joined Tulsa Welding School in April 2022 and I got promoted to Director of Training in October.
What is your role as Director of Training?
I run the campus at 1750 Southside Blvd. We are a split campus in Jacksonville. 3500 Southside is the welding campus; that’s about two and half miles from us. Here at 1750, I have 11 electrical, HVAC and Solar instructors right now. I make sure that they’re following their syllabus, that they’re doing labs and getting the students up out of their seats to do lab and board time. I just try to ensure that our instructors are doing what they’re supposed to do to keep our students involved and engaged. I also work with students who are missing school, encouraging them to come back to class and finish what they started.
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So, what phase did you teach when you were an instructor?
I started teaching Residential Electrical Wiring. That was really my forte; my expertise is in residential wiring. That’s mostly what I’ve done over the years as an electrician. I’ve also done light commercial work, so I taught the Commercial Wiring class too. I also taught the Fundamentals of Electricity class, which is the first phase of our EMT, EA, and RT programs here.
Is residential work where you spent most of your electrical career?
I’d say 90% was residential, 10% commercial. I can do either, but I just really enjoyed wiring houses, that was my wheelhouse, so that’s where I stayed. It was like a big puzzle. I did a lot of new construction, but most recently I got into insurance restoration work. I worked with two local restoration companies; we would rewire a house after some kind of incident or hazard. Hurricanes, flood, fire, lightning strikes, stuff like that. Even cars driving through houses. Believe it or not, I’ve been on a lot of jobs where a car just drove right through a house. I still have McKinney Electric, but I’m just doing work on the side.
As a young kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Originally, I wanted to be a chef. I enjoy cooking, and yet somehow, here I am! My dad’s an electrician, my grandpa was an electrician, my uncle is an electrician. It was just meant to be! I like to think I had a choice, but perhaps not…I didn’t want to get kicked out of the family!
So, after 35 years in the field, why did you decide to go into teaching last year?
Believe it or not, I was at the house on my couch, minding my own business. I was on Facebook and an ad appeared for instructors. I applied, and then as soon as I applied, it was like clockwork. Bryan Hatch placed the ad and he wouldn’t let me go, he was like, “We’ve got to get him!” Bryan was actually a Pipefitting & Welding Instructor. He’d taught at the welding campus for years, and they brought him to this campus as a temporary Director of Training. Bryan’s retired now; he has moved to Louisiana and he’s happily living on his farm, doing cattle and stuff.
Sounds like a nice retirement plan. What was your motivation to apply for a teaching role?
I enjoyed teaching my helpers out in the field. But I didn’t have the time to teach them how I wanted to because in the residential industry especially, it’s rush, rush, rush, to make more money. It wasn’t the kind of teaching I wanted to do, so I thought I’d try this, I thought I’d be good at it. I spoke to my wife and she said, “Yeah, you like talking, so sure, why not?”
Did you enjoy teaching? You’re not in the classroom teaching anymore.
When I jumped into it, I just hit the ground running. It just kind of flowed. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed talking with the students, getting to know the students. I still do, just not at the same level as I’m not in the classroom every day. Now that I’m the Director of Training, I still get video or phone calls from some of my students showing me their electrical work. That right there tells me that I did the right thing, because they learned and they’re reaching out to me still.
You put your hand up for the Director job. Do you miss the classroom?
I do miss the classroom stuff. I do miss the teaching, instructing, the one-on-one with the students and getting to know them. When I came on, I taught morning classes from 7.30am to 12.30pm. Then there was a need for an evening instructor from 6pm to 11pm. So, I started teaching day and night. We also have an Amazon class, so I was teaching morning, afternoon, and night for a little while. I started to get burnt out pretty quickly because I never left the campus. Then I put my hand up for the Director of Training position because the campus needed leadership.
So, tell us about your home life, Billy.
My wife Rhiannon and I have been married for eight years this December. We’ve been together for about 10 years. I have six kids, five living at home. Rhiannon and I have a three-year-old little precious angel, a little girl that thinks she’s 16. Then I have a 10-year-old stepson, and a 15-year-old stepdaughter. I have a 16-year-old son, and a 17-year-old son who is graduating June this year, Praise God! Then I’ve got a 32-year-old daughter and three grandsons, aged 13, six, and four. It’s a weird situation in that my grandsons are older than my youngest daughter, and my eldest daughter is 32 and my wife is 36. I still get along with my ex-wife by the way; we co-parent our 16- and 17-year-old boys.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
I’m actively involved in church, I’m a soloist, I actually sing! Then also in my spare time, I like restoring cars. I restored an old Mustang. That’s what I like to do.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be, and why?
My grandfather, William Powell McKinney Sr., because we all have the same name! He was an electrician for many years in the military. Every time I spent time with him, he always had a good little nugget to give me, that I could use in my life. I learned electrical from him too. I lost him in 2015.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting?
Commit to schooling and commit to finishing. Some students make an emotional decision to go to school; emotional decisions can change. But if you make a commitment that I’m actually going to do this, then you’ll follow through with it. Commit to it 100%. Don’t be emotional about it. There’s a difference there. I talk about this when I do our new student orientation, it’s all about commitment. Commit to finishing the program and we will get you through it. I have enough knowledge on my campus, whether it be RT, HVAC, Solar, or Electrical, for you to know everything you need to know to get started in the field.
What do you enjoy most when working in the field?
I enjoy putting the puzzle together. I enjoy figuring out how I’m going to wire a house because it’s all on the electrician. When you get a job, even when you’re working for a company, they’re going to give you a set of prints and all the materials to wire the job, but it’s your job to go out there and abide by the local codes, the NEC, and wire it correctly. So, it is like putting a puzzle together.
I take pride in it. I just wired a 2,600sf house three months ago on a weekend. I took videos and pictures that I could use as a teaching tool for students. They’re like, “Oh man, that’s some clean work.” They just go on about how clean it is, but I try to explain to them that cleanliness comes with time in the trade, once you’ve learned all the tricks.
You’re on your way to work and get a call that campus is closed. What are you going to do that day?
If I got a call like that, I have enough electrical work that I’d be able to fill my day doing side work!
Do you have a favorite tool, something sentimental…and/or practical?
Yeah, believe it or not, I don’t even know what it’s called. I call it a wire puller, basically. But they make these little things now that they didn’t have years ago. If you’re a residential electrician, you get a 250-foot roll of wire. What we would do years ago was we would take a two by four, stand it up and then we would make a T out of it. Then we would run Romex wire from the top down about 18 inches or so and staple it to the bottom pieces of wood. We would put a nail out of the top of the Romex, and then hang our Romex on that. It’s called a wire spinner. We would make wire spinners, so when we pull our wire, there’s no little dog legs in it, there’s no spirals, it’s nice and smooth when it comes off the roll rather than taking a bunch and rolling it out with your hands on the ground. I have some fancier ones that I bought that attach to a stud, and to me that’s my favorite tool is to throw a piece to throw a roll of wire on it and just pull it off. I can pull all the way through the house and not have to worry about stopping and re-rolling some wire out. I would say that’s probably the top thing.
If you were to tell someone “Thank You” for making you who you are today, who would it be & why?
I would have to say it would be my grandfather that I already mentioned, William. Because even though my father was an electrician, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather. He was always trying to make me a better electrician, he also taught me how to save money. If a wire nut was on the ground, he’d say, “That’s a Nickle right there, you better pick it up.” He taught me stuff that I’ll remember until the day I die.