Lance, 22, from Dallas, Texas, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in August 2021.
Thanks for your time, Lance; what did you do after high school before coming to welding school?
I’m originally from the Dallas area, but I lived in Norway for a long time. My dad is Norwegian. I lived there from the age of 11 through 17. I graduated high school in Norway and came back to the U.S. at 17, because I did not want to go to college. Their school system stops at tenth grade, and then you go to college.
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So, what did you do when you came back if you were done with high school?
Actually, my Norwegian high school credits didn’t transfer, so I was supposed to do four more years of high school here. But I dropped out at 18; I didn’t get on with my Algebra teacher! I did get my GED though. After that I got a construction job, doing concrete foundations and a little bit of welding.
Was that your first welding experience?
No, welding started for me when I was 8 years old; that’s when I laid my first bead. I was influenced by my grandfather and my father; they both welded as a hobby. That’s when I first figured out that welding was something I would love to be part of.
When did you decide to go to welding school?
After the construction work, I did some mechanic work. I worked in an off-road performance car shop in Tomball, Texas. But they wouldn’t let me dabble with welding because I wasn’t certified. That’s when I started researching welding schools. I found Tulsa Welding School in Houston, and discovered it was twelve minutes from my house! I researched welding jobs, how much welders make, what my lifestyle could look like as a welder. Once I figured out that welders make a good bit of money, I made my decision – this is what I was going to do…I just needed to figure out how to pay for it.
Did you work with the Financial Aid team at Tulsa?
Once I decided this was what I wanted to do, yes, I met with the financial people at school. When they told me it was around $20,000 tuition, my morale sank. At the time my wife was pregnant, I didn’t have a job, I thought, how am I going to do this? But then they mentioned financial aid; they talked about how you don’t have to start paying some of it back until a certain time, and the rates were amazing. I got a FAFSA loan, plus a loan from Tuition Options and a grant for $10,000 which I wouldn’t have to pay back*.
They made me aware of all the resources available and how/where to apply. Ms. Tamika in the Financial Aid team was amazing; she helped me through everything. Within three days they helped me find the resources that made it possible for me. When I look at the welding job I have now, I could make my money back by ten times in one year. After the grant, I’m paying $10,000. But in one year I have the potential to earn up to $104,000, and that’s the first job I was offered from Tulsa Welding School.
That’s awesome. Before we talk about your job, what did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
The instructors and the staff – the Financial Aid Advisors and Career Services Advisors; it’s an overall awesome environment. Everybody wants to help you succeed. You’re going to go through rough times and you’re going to have great days, but no matter what you go through, the instructors and staff will be by your side to make sure you learn what you need to. If you’re willing to put the hours in, put your mind to it, be there on time – pretty much put your all into it – you’re going to leave a happy and successful person.
You finished class six weeks ago, so where are you working?
I’m working for Texas Pride Trailers in Madisonville, Texas. I’m working 3am to 3pm.
How did you get the job?
I was in the Campus President’s mentor group when I started school, and he told me to start going to Career Services during my second to last class. I did what Robert said and I went in every week; the team got to know me. I spent a lot of time contemplating what I wanted to do. One morning I went to Career Services and told them exactly what I was interested in. Before I left that day, five or six hours later, they gave me three companies to talk to. Long story short, one of those companies was Texas Pride Trailers. I spoke with them, and everything just fit; I liked the pay rate, I liked the type of welding, the opportunities. Once the conversation was over, I thought, “That’s the company I’m going to work for.” Three weeks after I graduated – because I had some personal stuff to deal with – I went up there to Madisonville; I talked to the guy that does the weld test for maybe two minutes, did three different weld tests, and he said if he liked what he saw, I’d be on board. I was out of there with a job in an hour and a half.
What’s your career plan from here?
I’ve only just started with Texas Pride, but I plan to be a Lead or a Supervisor here within two to three years. I can see myself working here my entire career, a good twenty to thirty years. I get paid ‘piece rate’ is what they call it, which is basically commission based on how many trailers I can build. There are guys who earn $400/450 minimum a day because of their skills, speed, and experience. My roommate – Demetrius who went to TWS with me – and I aim to push four trailers a week, which would work out at $1500 to $2000 a week.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
I enjoy seeing the results of my work, to be able to say to someone “I built this.” It’s not bragging rights, it’s a sense of pride in what I’ve accomplished. I never saw myself here until about three years ago.
Why do you say that?
I’m a manic-depressive person – and I’d like to speak for anyone with conditions like Depression or PTSD. Even if you have one of these conditions, you can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it. I’m proof of that. Don’t be afraid. If you put your blood, sweat, and tears into it, you can do anything.
Thank you for sharing that. Did you make some lasting connections at school?
I made a couple of good friends – with instructors and classmates. But honestly, I focused on me until I was satisfied with what I could do within the parameters of a class. But once I was satisfied, I became like a teacher’s assistant, helping other students – showing them different techniques to overcome things they were struggling with.
You sound like you might consider becoming an instructor one day?
I’ve actually talked to the school about it; it might be in 20/30 years, but I am coming back! I want to help students the way my instructors helped me. One day, when I’m done with Texas Pride, I’m coming back!
What advice do you have for new students to be successful at TWS?
You’re going to have tough times, days when you think you’re not built for this, but stick with it. You have to push through the bad times to get to the good times, especially with something as tough as welding. I’m not going to say welding is easy, but it’s also not the hardest thing in the world. If you put your mind to it, focus, and do what your instructors say, you will be successful.
Also…never close your mind to how you want to achieve something; have an open mind to different techniques. Sometimes if an instructor shows you a technique and you just don’t get it, ask another instructor to show you how they’d do it, or another student. I’ve graduated and I’m working now, but I’m still learning new techniques at work. The opportunities with welding are endless. My boss told me just yesterday, if I put my hours in, the possibilities are endless…so stick with it. It will be worth it.
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).
* This is one graduate’s volunteered personal financial situation as to his own experience with loans, grants, and the Financial Aid process. To learn more about your options for funding your tuition at Tulsa Welding School, visit https://www.tws.edu/tuition-planning/