Earl, 32, from Brooklyn, NY, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in June 2021.
Thanks for your time, Earl. What did you do after high school before welding school?
When I got out of high school in 2008, I joined the U.S. Army. After basic training I moved to California and fell in love with the place. I finished my Army career in Kuwait for personal reasons, and when I got back home to California, I worked on cars and worked at convenience stores to just make money.
Thank you for your service, sir. So, you didn’t leave the Army with a particular skill or a trade?
I did, I just didn’t enjoy it in the military, so I didn’t want to do it outside. It was Human Resources. Doing paperwork for 10 years made me bored of it. I’m not a desk guy, I’m more of a hands-on guy.
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Where did the idea of welding come from?
I picked up welding with one of my friends back in California when I got back. We did a little welding on a car, putting a muffler on, and I enjoyed it. After that I had a welding job for about a year in CA. It was very basic MIG welding; pretty much just pointing the tip at the edge where I wanted to go. I had no formal training; just point and weld. When I moved to Oklahoma in 2020, I decided to use my GI Bill and go to welding school. That’s when I found Tulsa Welding School.
How did you hear about Tulsa Welding School?
I heard about it through one of my friends. Going to welding school was something I’d wanted to do for a while actually. My friend told me Tulsa was a good school.
What did you enjoy most during your time at Tulsa Welding School?
The hands-on time, mostly. When I got into welding, it was something I really enjoyed doing. So going to school and just having hours to weld was fun. They had a curriculum to follow, they wanted us to weld certain things, but if you got done quickly, they gave you time to weld what you wanted to or to practice how to get welds done correctly. When you first go in, you’re just burning holes in metal. That’s what you’re going to do because you don’t know how hot you’re supposed to go, or how fast or slow. They give you time to practice all that. If you need help, the teacher will be there to help you.
I was going to ask you about the instructors.
The teachers were very professional. They help you out one-on-one when they get the chance. Once they get in your booth, they sit and teach you one-on-one how to do it, how to properly hold it. If you’re a lefty like me, it’s hard to learn right-handed welding. But my teachers showed me how to do it with my right hand and then how to do it with my left hand, so I could hold it comfortably in my hand.
I’d never thought about left vs right-handed welding – that’s cool. What shift did you do?
The evening class, 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. But I went in two hours early each day to get extra welding time.
You just graduated. Are you working, and if so, how did you get the job?
About a month before I graduated, XL Specialized Trailers from Manchester, Iowa, came to the school and offered a weld test. I wasn’t prepared at all. I had to use my friend’s hood and covers. But I took the test, passed it, and they hired me on the spot. They gave me a start date of June 14, which was 10 days ago.
That’s awesome. How is it going?
I’m enjoying it. We make custom commercial trailers. I’m building the wheel-housing at the back of the trailers, the part that carries the majority of the load. The people I work with are great. The mentor I have is very patient. He teaches me everything I need to know and then helps me out step-by-step with their process and the right way to do it. He has his own way of doing things, but he’s taking the time to show me the way the company want things done, so I don’t lose my job.
Do you have a family, or was it an easy move?
No, I don’t. It’s just me, so it was pretty easy. Finding housing out here is difficult though. I’ve seen a few apartments, but none are available until August. But the company is helping out. They are paying for my hotel until I can find an apartment. They help you out a lot to get out here; they’re making an investment. It seems like a great company to work for. They promise a lot, and most companies don’t hold up to their promises, but XL have held up to everything they told me. The night I got here my hotel room was waiting. A week into my job I got my first relocation bonus, which was amazing. Then once I do get my own place, they’ll help me that first month with a housing bonus, which is awesome. They make sure you’re set. They don’t want to lose you. Some people here have been here 15-20 years, and still enjoy the job every day.
You don’t have to share numbers, but are you happy with where you’re starting with your paycheck?
Oh yeah. I’m very happy with my starting point, and I don’t mind sharing numbers. So, they put me on first shift, which is from 4:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., they started me off at $19/hour, and after nine months I can work my way up to $23/hour. On second shift, they start you at $19/hour, but give you a 10%/15% bonus I think, because you work from 3:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. On top of that, you’re always working overtime, and after nine months you get bumped up to $23/hour, with all the benefits there as well. It’s a great place to start.
What’s your career plan from here?
My ultimate career goal is to eventually start my own business and become a mobile welder, but I plan to stay with this company as long as I can, because it’s a great family company. They take care of their people if you take care of yourself. As long as you work with them, they’ll work with you. There are not many loyal companies like that, so I want to stay attached as long as I can. Loyalty is a two-way street.
When you talk about being a mobile welder, do you mean local work or traveling?
More like helping people locally who can’t afford an expensive welder to repair or build things, like repairing cars, or building stairways. More local stuff than traveling, just kind of like being on call. I don’t plan to leave Iowa. I like country living, and that’s what I’ve got here. There’s a whole bunch of places to visit, outdoor stuff to do, and I don’t have to pay expensive prices to live comfortably.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
I like getting to build things from scratch. All I get is a blueprint, my welder, and some metal, and they tell me to build it. The phrase the guy used when he came to talk the school is that it’s like getting a new 175-piece Lego set every day and sitting there for hours, building it from start to finish. That’s exactly what I do here. That’s what puts a smile on my face. It’s an awesome sense of accomplishment every time.
Did you make some friends, some lasting connections, at TWS?
Yeah. I made a lot of friends. Some of us still talk every day. I’m actually trying to convince one guy to come out here. He’s found a few welding jobs in OK, but nothing he actually likes. I told him he’ll enjoy it out here. But he doesn’t want to leave his family behind, which I completely understand. I didn’t have family to leave behind, so I can understand his hesitation, but I told him he would be well taken care of once he gets here.
What advice do you have for new students…for them to be successful at TWS?
Talk to the teachers. Ask them as many questions as you can. There are no stupid questions. They’ve heard every type of question when it comes to welding, and they have an answer for almost everything. If they don’t know the answer, they’ll find somebody that does, or they’ll sit down and practice it with you so they can learn it themselves. The teachers are there to help you, and they love helping you. They’re willing to teach you as long as is needed for you to learn that one particular weld. I’m not supposed to name drop instructors, but I’m going to: Jessie, Garrett and Matt. I really appreciate everything those guys in particular did for me.
If you’re a TWS graduate and would like to share your success and be an inspiration to others, please email [email protected] 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).