LaNorris, 30, from Immokalee, Florida, graduated from the Professional Welder program on April 26, and then started the Pipefitting course in May. He graduated the Professional Welder with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in August 2021.
Thanks for your time LaNorris. Did you enroll in the pipefitting from the start?
Yes, my original plan was to complete the Pipefitting course after the welding, but I wasn’t convinced by the idea. But, as I moved through the welding program, I heard other students talk about the opportunities that pipefitting brings. I got more encouraged to go ahead with my original plan and just do it.
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Tell us what you did before coming to Tulsa Welding School?
I went to community college after high school because I wanted to go into the medical field. I didn’t get accepted into an X-Ray Technician program, then I tried to be a Sonogram Technician and that didn’t work. My first dream actually was to be a veterinarian because I’ve always had a love for animals, but then I realized it was 12 years of college and I doubted I could stick with it for that long.
After high school I washed dishes, bussed tables. I worked for UPS, FedEx, Publix… standard jobs with no opportunity for growth. I kept hearing about trade schools, so I looked into it and went to a technical college in southern Florida, close to home. It was a four-month welding course. I completed that in 2019.
Where did the idea of welding come from? Did you weld in high school?
No, I didn’t weld in high school, but the idea came from my dad. He is a 6G certified welder. He was welding for the union when I was young; he had his own welding truck, a rig, and always had work. He traveled a lot. That’s when I realized that there is a lot of opportunity with welding.
But it took you ten years to take that opportunity?
I didn’t know if welding was for me; I knew the money and the opportunities were there, but I didn’t know if it would be a skill I could learn. Honestly, with the fire, the danger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it.
Having completed one welding course in 2019, what made you decide to come to Tulsa?
The welding course at the technical college was very basic, a quick run through of the basics. They only certified me in the flat position. At Tulsa they train you to get certified in all positions. It’s a more in-depth welding school. Tulsa gets into the ‘Why’ and a better, deeper understanding of the processes.
How did you learn about Tulsa Welding School?
A Tulsa representative had called the technical school, and said if I wanted to continue my education, there was an opportunity at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville. I worked for a while; I had three welding jobs. My first welding job was $13.50 an hour, my second was $17, and my last welding job was $18 an hour, but it was a temporary job that lasted a few months. Once it ended, I was thinking I wanted something more stable, so I decided to further my education to get a better understanding of the job.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?
The level of support I got from the staff and the teachers with the things I was dealing with. My living arrangements weren’t always stable, but as long as I communicated with the teachers that I was running late or whatever, we worked it out. They were very supportive, and the teachers were always willing to help me when I needed help. They gave me the training I needed to be successful.
That’s tough to have problems with accommodation.
Mostly roommate issues. People leaving, getting jobs, dropping out. I had to juggle it. I did the night class, so I’d drive six hours home to my wife every weekend; I left after school and came back Monday morning.
Did you have enough access to the instructors?
When they see that you are willing to learn, they do all they can to help you perfect your welds. They pointed out my strong suits and told me where I was falling short, areas that needed improvement. They helped me build my skills to where I needed to be. The teachers wanted me to push myself, to go above and beyond because they knew I was capable of more. Once they see you are willing to do that, to push yourself, they keep you in mind when they hear about jobs or opportunities that they can recommend people for. Putting in that extra effort, showing that desire to learn, can be very lucrative.
You just graduated – congratulations! I understand you start a new job next week, is that right?
I start at Direct Industrial Products & Machining in Labelle, Florida, on Monday. It’s 40 minutes from home.
Congratulations – What kind of work will you be doing?
I will be working as a field welder. I start on a little shutdown job at a sugar mill next week. But overall, I’ll be doing a bunch of different welding. They do Stick, MIG, a little TIG, so I’ll be doing everything. They do structural welding, they make parts – they cross train you to do it all. They will send me to different local projects. I will be home every night. It’s not a full-on traveling job.
Did Career Services help you get the job?
The Tulsa Career Services team helped me build my résumé, then I went on Indeed.com and uploaded it. The next day they were so impressed with my résumé, Indeed asked me to convert it to their résumé format so they could send it to employers. After I did that, it seems like I get emailed 15-20 jobs a day.
Are you happy with the money you’re starting on?
I’m starting at $20 an hour, but after 30 days I get a review and a raise. There will be a bunch of overtime. They said to expect 40 to 70 hours a week if I’m willing to work weekends. The sky is the limit. Honestly, I’m flabbergasted by what the school trained me to do, and the opportunities it has led to. There is a lot of room to grow here. I don’t mind working in a shop, I’ve done that, but I prefer to work in the field.
What’s your career plan from here; what’s your ultimate career goal?
I’m excited by this opportunity to build my experience. Eventually I would like to join a union; I saw with my dad that it gives you a lot of security. You’re always working. My dad’s experience encouraged me to stick with welding and eventually try to join a union if I can, if I get good enough with my skills.
Would you ever consider traveling away, doing shutdown work?
Yeah, because you can make money quicker. With a night shift, you can make about $36,000 in three months. If you can make quick money, you don’t have to do it all year. Once a year is nice quick money.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
I enjoy all of it, but for the most part it’s knowing that my welds are helping others. Especially with the structural welding, there are lives at stake when you’re building hotels, hospitals, high rises, houses. Knowing that I am contributing to the communities where I’m welding gives me joy.
What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School?
My advice is to keep your head up, and don’t give up. It will be frustrating trying to get that nice bead that the teacher will want to see to give you a passing grade. Make sure you are there when the teachers do the demo; they will do a weld to show you what they are looking for. Once you get the demo, go on YouTube to see how different welders do the same type of weld. YouTube can be your best friend. Just know that the teachers are there to help you, not hurt you. They want you to succeed. They are not there to beat you up and badger you, even though sometimes it can feel that way when they ask you to do a weld again, and again, and again. But remember practice makes perfect, so all that repetition is what gets you the nice welds the teachers are looking for.
Is your dad proud of you?
He said I could have done it sooner! But yes, he’s proud of the progress I’ve made, he’s proud of me figuring out what I wanted to do. When I finally realized that welding could bring me big opportunities, he’s proud that I followed his career path.
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).