Tim, 41, from St Augustine, FL, is a welding instructor at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville. Tim has more than 20 years’ experience welding and has been teaching at TWS for about 10 months.
Thanks for your time, Tim. When did you first learn to weld?
I was 19. I never had any formal welding trading in school. My father was a pipefitter and a pipe welder. He taught me how to weld in his garage. I learned by repetition. He gave me the basics and I continued to learn and get better, honing my skills and my craft over a lifetime.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
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I wanted to be a football player. As I grew up, I realized I didn’t have the size or speed. But I always enjoyed working out as a teenager, helping people either gain or lose weight, so I decided to go to junior college. My goal was to go to Florida State for Exercise Physiology or Sports Nutrition. If I couldn’t play the game, I wanted to be around it. I enjoyed helping people accomplish their goals even then. When that didn’t work out, I realized I enjoyed working with my hands, so I pursued welding and here I am!
You’ve had 22 years in the field. Tell us about your career.
I did a little bit of everything. I started out in commercial, meaning I welded in places like retail stores, or in churches, schools—places where you’re not welding on critical systems. That experience enabled me to get my foot in the door in industrial welding with the union. I worked in nuclear power plants, coal fired plants, chemical plants, oil refineries, and pharmaceutical plants all over the country, and in Puerto Rico. I did a lot of shutdown and turnaround work. The sky’s the limit financially, if you’re prepared to put in the work and do the overtime. You can make six figures in one year, but there are sacrifices. The life was fine before I got married and when my family was young, but all the travel, hotels, and restaurants started to get old after more than 10 years. Nothing beats home, and a home-cooked meal! I missed my family. It was time to get off the road
Is that when you went into teaching?
No, I got a non-union job working in Rhode Island for Electric Boat, a General Dynamic division. I worked on nuclear submarines. I wanted something steadier and that was five years of guaranteed, around the clock, employment. I could also go home to my family every night. I’d still be there if it wasn’t for the weather, and for personal reasons that brought us back to Florida. We moved back to Saint Augustine about two years ago. Everything happens for a reason, and I now have my dream job, the job of a lifetime. I put 21 years in and feel I’ve done my time. Coming down here was a blessing in disguise.
How did you get into teaching?
I was working for Stellar Energy here in Jacksonville. An older co-worker, Terry, was doing what we call a welding upgrade, getting certified in a new process. He had the experience, but he was struggling, so I stopped by and asked if there was anything I could do to help. I like to help people. Anyway, long story short, I helped him out and he asked if I ever thought about teaching welding. I told him that I wasn’t old enough yet. I thought it was an old person’s job. He told me I was ready, and that he used to teach here. He put me in touch with Jack Dulls, the Director of Training, and here I am!
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
The instant gratification when you see the expression on students’ faces. I try to lift them up every day and let them now that they have to push themselves to find their limit. Our Professional Welder program is very fast-paced, and it can be a struggle. You don’t know what talent you may or may not have until you give 110%. If you do that and it still doesn’t work out, at least you gave it your best, your heart and soul. This school gives you the basic training needed to get your foot in the door for entry-level welding jobs. But you have to go after it, put in the work and go from there.
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you?
People probably don’t know how much I enjoy moments with my family. I just enjoy being home, trying to be an all-round good dad and husband! I guess I’m trying to make up for the years I missed on the road. I also love sports and fishing, but I’m really a home guy. Family comes first, but I have a real passion for what I do. When I’m home sometimes I find myself thinking about the students, about the ones who are struggling and what I can do to help connect with them.
Tell us about your family.
My wife and I have been married almost 15 years. We have a boy and a girl, aged 10 and 12.
What was your favorite part of the industry?
When I was younger, I enjoyed the traveling, seeing the country, meeting new people. I used to take risks and I enjoyed the adrenaline factor. Then, once I had my family and the kids got older, it became less enjoyable. My favorite part of my later career was working at Electric Boat. I really built my skills there. I had to weld a lot of critical systems. It’s hard enough to weld when you can see something in front of you, but in the tight spaces of a nuclear submarine, I had to learn how to weld in a mirror. It was challenging, but I loved it. It was so rewarding when I got it. I loved the structure, the continuity, the work, and that I went home every day.
If you weren’t a teacher, and money was no object, what would you do?
I’d like to travel the country and help people, feed the hungry and save lives, even if it’s just one child a day. I would love to do that. If I was ever blessed to win a huge amount of money, that’s what I would do. I would take care of my family first, and then go around the world and try to save lives.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
The President of the United States. I don’t mean Donald Trump or Barack Obama; I just mean the President, who is arguably the most powerful person in the world. I would have a lot of thoughts, suggestions, and helpful tips to help humanity out!
What would you do with an unexpected afternoon off?
I’d grab the family and head to the beach or go out for dinner. As I’ve gotten older, I realize how precious time with my family is.
If you could tell someone “thank you” for helping you become the man you are, who would it be?
A guy called Sam who I met 20 years ago, when I first worked at a nuclear plant. He was a veteran welder in his prime. He saw the drive in me and asked if I wanted to become a great welder. I said, “Yeah!” and he replied, “Rubber and asphalt!” What he was trying to say was, if you want to be a well-balanced, seasoned welder, traveling is the quickest way to do it. When you travel and meet new people, you discover many different ways to get the job done. He was right, and it worked for me. I would also say thanks to Terry, the guy I mentioned before who got me on the path to teaching. I’m so happy now.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting out?
Look in the mirror and ask yourself why you’re here. Focus on the answer and then spend the next seven months (or the length of your program) removing all distractions that will get in your way. Seven months is going to fly by, so surround yourself with a support system that won’t distract you. Your opponent isn’t the project, it’s yourself, your attitude, and your mentality. Try to have more good days than bad days, and listen to every instructor you have. Figure out what works for you and go after it. Just keep moving forward. It’s a mental game. Stick with it, work hard, don’t get distracted, and you’ll figure it out.