Piper, 19, from Harrah, Oklahoma, graduated from the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in July 2019.
Thanks for your time, Piper. Did you come to welding school straight after high school?
No, I was a CNA [Certified Nursing Assistant]. I was going to go on and get my nursing degree. I’d been on that path for almost three years, since I was 16. But honestly, I just got tired of them having me wear make-up everyday to look pretty. I wanted something I could do with my hands, where I could be myself.
What made you think about welding as a career?
I saw an ad on Facebook for Tulsa Welding School, and I started getting into it, reading about it. My sister and brother-in-law had me weld fences together on their property, and I really liked it. That was before I went to Tulsa. That was my first welding experience. They turned on the welder for me and said go for it! I really liked it. I spoke with Ms. Margo, my enrollment advisor at Tulsa, and she reviewed everything with me, and I went for it. I commuted to school from Harrah. It was 90 minutes each way, every day.
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Nursing to welding. That’s quite the change.
I wanted to do something where you don’t typically find girls, I guess you could say. I didn’t want to be the typical girl who went to nursing school. I wanted something different. Sure I’m a “girly girl” on Sunday when I go to church, but other than that, I have no make-up on and my hair is a mess!
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
The instructors definitely played a big part in it for me. They just made me feel at home. They judged my work to help me get better, but I loved welding when I was in school. They just helped me better myself.
You graduated last July, where are you working?
I’m working at Alliance Steel Building Systems in Oklahoma City as a QC [Quality Control]. I started in December last year.
What did you do after graduation, before getting this job?
I went on a few dead-end jobs out of state, leads that didn’t work out. Honestly it was hard trying to find a job as a woman. But my CWI [Certified Welding Inspector] here at Alliance is female, and she’s the one who okayed me. There are four women in the weld shop now; I was the second one to join. We make up about 5%.
Are you welding yourself, or just quality control?
They don’t let us weld in QC, but we’re trying to get to point where we can. We want to show the welders how to fix things, instead of them making it worse!
How do you have a job in QC, if they don’t let you weld?
Oh, I’ve passed the weld test here, so they know I can weld! They just don’t want people in Quality Control welding. I have four stations with eight welders that I’m responsible for. I’m critiquing. I’m jumping around the shop all the time, trying to make sure that pieces are going out correctly and having the welders fix stuff. It takes a good while to check an entire piece and get it off the rack. They don’t want us welding because we don’t have time.
Are you happy with the money you’re earning?
Yes, I am happy. I’m working over 60 hours a week at the moment. My shift is 7 am to 7 pm, six days a week, unless they have us work overtime on Sundays, which they might do tomorrow. Lots of coffee!
What did you do with your first paycheck? Celebrate?
I just started paying my bills basically. I’m trying to pay the money back so I can get a rig.
Where do you see your career going from here?
I can see myself working in welding for the next 20 years at least. I want to go to the pipeline; that’s why I want to save for a rig. I have a few buddies on there right now. They’re waiting till it all kicks back off to get a helper. I’d like to try and get there on the next year or so. When an opportunity arises, I will most likely take it. It will be as a welder helper to start with. I have to build my experience on the pipeline. It might take a few years to build my name and reputation, and not be seen as the new guy.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
I just like getting dirty! But seriously it’s about the pride I get from what I do. I love this. I don’t plan on quitting any time soon.
Did you make some lasting connection at school? People you will stay in touch with.
There are four guys from my class that I’m still in touch with. There are also some guys who graduated about four years before me who have been blowing up my phone, asking if I want to be their helper. I also have a girl who I’m working with now, who started school right after me.
What advice do you have for new students who want to be successful at TWS?
They just really need to focus on their work. It doesn’t matter how mad, or how frustrated you get—you’ve just got to keep going with it. I’ll be honest, I had times where I thought about quitting. When I first started stick welding, that was the first phase, I just could not get it to save my life!
What made you keep going?
I was the only girl in my class and all the guys thought I wouldn’t make it! I wanted to show them up, and I did! You definitely have to have thick skin as a female welder.
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).