Matt Bagby, age 20, was born and raised near St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated from the Professional Welder program in May 2015, having started at TWS just six months out of high school.
Thank you for your time Matt; what brought you to a welding career?
I first tried welding when I was 12; my grandpa had a little welding machine in his shop. I’d heard people talk about how much money you could make welding. So I tried it a couple of times, loved it and went on from there. I went through a tech program in high school, and I took welding classes for two years. Then I got a little welding shop job and started at Tulsa Welding School.
What made you decide you needed more education than you got at high school?
I went to Tulsa Welding School so I could learn how to weld pipe. They taught me a little in high school, but there’s just so much more to learn. There’s only so much you can learn in high school.
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Did you do the full seven month program?
At Tulsa Welding School they let you test out of up to four phases; I passed all four so I started the program in Phase Five. I was at TWS for about four, maybe four and a half, months.
What was your favorite part about the TWS program, and why?
My favorite part was how laid back it was. I like that you could kind of work at your own pace. If you wanted to learn, you were going to learn…but if you didn’t apply yourself, you obviously weren’t going to. You’re paying for it, so the opportunity is there for you to learn. But if you don’t take the opportunity, you’re still paying for it. There were a bunch of people on their phones all the time, or down in the break room, but that just wasn’t me. I was there for a reason and I made the most of it.
Did you leave TWS feeling like you were on your way to becoming a specialist?
Yes. My time at TWS took me a little further than I’d hoped it would. The instructors, their demonstrations really helped.
How long did it take you to get a job after graduating?
Not long. It took maybe two weeks. I found my first job on Craigslist. I went up to Lafayette, Indiana, and started with The Kelly Group. I stayed there for about a month and then I went to Kansas for about six weeks. I was mostly doing shutdowns for them.
What did you do with that first paycheck from Lafayette?
I went out and bought two guns; I think I’ve got about eight now.
Where are you working now?
I actually just got off a job building an ethanol plant in Illinois with Fagen; I’m going to take a few weeks off until the New Year and spend some time with the family. I’ll either go to Louisiana or Texas in January. I’ve got a couple of weeks to figure out where I want to go next.
So you work for more than one company?
I just travel; if there’s no work, or if work has dried up with one company, I move on to the next. I don’t wait around if they’re telling me they’re going to have more work in a month, I just move on.
How does that work out financially? Do you make enough to take time off when you want?
Yeah. In Illinois I was making $32 an hour and $80 per diem, working either six/tens or seven/twelves and after the first 40, it was $48 an hour. You’re working so much you don’t have time to spend any money, so you can afford to take a little bit of time off when you come home.
So the stories you heard when you were younger about the money welders can make…it sounds true?
Yes, for sure. I’ve got no regrets. I’m going to buy a camper soon so I don’t have to stay in hotels; I’ll save some money on the per diems.
Are you still getting jobs from Craigslist, or now through connections you’ve made?
I’m actually getting phone calls now from people I’ve met, friends I’ve made, out in the field. They’ll let me know if there’s a job going on and I do like likewise. Either that or the companies call me, or emails come through.
Where do you want to be in three years?
I’d like to find myself on a pipeline somewhere. It doesn’t really matter where. I’d rather stay down south when it gets cold in the winter, but other than that it doesn’t really matter.
Is that your dream job? Why?
Yeah. It would just be neat to run all that pipe all at one time, to be on your own, have your own rig.
What’s your favorite aspect of your new trade?
Probably just the finished product, the sense of achievement that comes with that. When a plant opens up again after a shutdown and you’re done welding pipe, there’s a sense of achievement in knowing that what they’re doing is going through that pipe.
What do you do for fun?
I go hunting when I can, and I just like to hang out with friends. Instead of spending money aimlessly on things, I just bought myself an AR-15 and build I’m building it on the road. Plus I still weld when I’m off.
Is that just because you enjoy it, or for more practice?
A little bit of both, and I’m just helping people out.
If you were a millionaire for a day, what would you do?
I’d go buy a new truck and rig it out.
What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?
Don’t quit and keep the hood down. Practice makes perfect. I’ve been doing this for a little bit now and I’m still learning. As soon as you think you’ve learned enough, that’s where you end, that’s where you peak. You’ve always got to keep your mind open to learning more. Welders can always learn from other welders. Everybody wants to be the best out there and the best of us know we can always learn more.
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).