Jackson, 19, from Shreveport, Louisiana, graduated from the Welding Specialist with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in June 2020.
Thanks for your time, Jackson. Did you go to welding school straight out of high school?
Yeah, pretty much. I took three months after high school to work and make a little money, and then I went across to Texas. I didn’t know a single person in Houston when I moved here.
What made you choose welding as a career?
We had a trade school attached to our high school. I actually wasn’t going to take welding. I was going to take automotive. But one day I was talking to my brother about my schedule for my Junior year and he said, “Don’t do automotive, take welding instead. They can make a lot of money.” I said okay, and that was it. So I started welding class and immediately fell in love with it.
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Did your brother have any welding experience himself?
No, I’m pretty sure he made it up on the spot! But it turned out for the best!
Did you sign up for the Pipefitting program from the start, or add it on?
I decided to add it on as I came to the end of the Welding Specialist program. It seemed like a good class, and the instructors were good people who knew what they were talking about. My friends were doing it, and they are older and smarter than I am, so I figured it would be a good idea.
Coming from Louisiana, what made you choose the Houston campus?
I actually had a lot of thought about going to the Tulsa campus because my stepdad is from there and I have a stepbrother who still lives there. But my girlfriend, Bryanna, goes to Texas A&M University, so that was probably the deciding factor.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
I made a couple of really good friends. I had very good instructors. I never had a bad instructor the entire program. Everyone I worked with knew what they were talking about and of course. That really helped me. I’m beyond thankful for that.
You graduated three weeks ago, and you are waiting to start with BAE. How did that job come about?
100% randomly! I was sitting on my couch one day going through my career services emails, just dying to go to work somewhere. The way it works is that Marquis (the Career Services guy I worked with) would send a bunch of emails with all these companies that are hiring. He asks if I’d want to work there, and of course, everyone says yes! Then he helped me build my résumé and got me on the application path. With BAE Systems there were two job locations; one in York, PA, and one in San Diego, CA. I was never going to San Diego, so I said sign me up for York.
Then what happened?
My application went in, then a week later I had to do a weld test at the school. We had the best wire instructor there, Jesse, and he trained everybody for the weld test. He put the pressure on us for sure. When we took the real weld test, it was all alleviated, not stressful at all, and very easy. We could just focus on what we needed to do.
Did you do the real weld test at the school too?
Yes, we did. They flew their testers and interviewers down to Houston, and Career Services basically held my hand the entire way through. This all happened before we finished class. I got my letter of intent from the company two days after I graduated.
This was all three weeks ago. When do you start?
I’ve just completed a physical, a drug test, and a background check this past Friday. I packed up all my stuff into a pod on Saturday and sent it up north, and today is my last day in Houston. I’m sleeping on the floor of my apartment because I don’t have a bed anymore. Tomorrow I go home to Louisiana to see my family for a week over 4th of July Holiday, and then I’m shipping off to Pennsylvania. They haven’t given me a firm start date; everything is pretty flexible when you’re relocating across the country, but they’d like me up there pretty soon, and once I get settled in and comfortable in my new place.
What are you going to be doing for them?
Welding. I’ll be building defense vehicles for the United States military. I’m very excited; everyone I speak to says it is a great company. I’m excited to move and get a fresh start in Pennsylvania, even though I just did that last year coming to Houston. I’ve never been out of the south, so that will be cool. Bryanna has a year left at A&M, but she has already signed up for a law school in Washington D.C., so she’ll be up there fairly soon. She won’t be living with me, just closer than Texas. We’ve been together over three years, so we’re both excited for the future.
Are you happy with what you will be earning?
I am. I think it’s a very nice place to start. They also gave me a relocation bonus, to give me some money to be able to move. They have a five-week training course at their own school, and after that I’ll get a small pay bump.
Where do you see your welding career going?
I have no concrete plans, just an idea that I’d like to try pretty much everything! I want to travel the world, I’d like to see the Middle East, I’d like to go to Alaska, work offshore. I’d like to do it all. I’d love to try the pipeline.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
I like the privacy. Whenever you’re welding, you could be making a 40-foot weld, and you have your hood down the entire time. It’s pitch-black aside from what you’re looking at, and you’re just in your own head. Your hands are on autopilot. They’re doing their thing, and you’re not thinking about welding at all. You can focus on whatever is in your head and I enjoy that. If I’m welding a job for eight hours, I’d say after about 45 minutes I’m not even thinking about working for the rest of the day.
Did you make some lasting connections at school?
I made good friends with a couple of guys, both older guys. They’re both married with two kids. Yesterday I was at one of their kid’s birthday parties. It was a little strange being a single guy with no children at a two-year old’s party, but it was a good time. We talk all the time. We go hunt. They’re good guys, and we’ll stay in touch for sure.
What advice would you give to students for them to be successful at TWS?
Stick with it. Come to school, and do not miss any days. Trust your instructors and do what they say. Really invest in yourself when it comes to getting better. Put in more time, and use the materials and resources the school has available for you. I know it’s really hard for some people to do, but if you can, try and find a small welding job while you’re down here at school. That’s just more experience for you if you can get some fabrication experience going.
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).