Graduate Connections – Meet Allison Espinoza

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Allison, 27, from Houston, Texas, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in January 2022.

Thanks for your time, Allison. What did you do before Tulsa Welding School?

At 19 years old, I was bartending.

So, how did you get into welding?

I was really into cars and car events, so I knew a lot of car guys. We were all hanging out one day; they were putting airbags on a Chevy c10 truck. One of them said, “Allie, just tack this weld on.” I didn’t know what they were talking about. They showed me, and I did it. Then they told me how to run a bead. So, I just welded and they’re like, “Allie, you look like you know what you’re doing.” I had to tell them I’d literally never done it before, but that’s when my passion for welding began.

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So, did you start working as a welder then at 19?

I tried everything under the moon in Texas from companies building stairwells, to platforms, to barbecue pits. Nobody wanted to hire me for nothing. I even had a gentleman take me outside and point to a blue building and tell me they hire women. I mean, I knew what this industry was. I knew it could be cutthroat and cruel, but I didn’t expect them to be as blunt as they were.

Was it just because you were a woman, or because you had no experience?

I think it was a mix of both. Had I been a guy showing up at 19 with no experience, I might have had more of a chance, but no guarantee. What I didn’t understand was that welders are needed. I figured they see a new welder and that would give them a clean slate to work with, to teach me exactly what they wanted me to know. That’s how I looked at it. But that wasn’t the case. No one wanted to give me the time of day.

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So, what did you do?

Well, Allie being awesome, I started my own company as a handy gal in The Heights in Houston and it blew up. I supported myself for the last eight years. I’d also do some basic welding jobs once in a while like stoop stairways up to peoples’ houses, I made artwork for someone’s front porch. Simple things like that.

That is awesome, Allie! What brought you to Tulsa Welding School in July 2021?

I still wanted to weld. I figured my next best chance was to get certified. I thought that employers would look at me better as a certified female welder starting out. I’d looked into welding school when I was younger, but I couldn’t afford it. Financial aid only pays for so much. I didn’t have the resources to get grants or anything, I didn’t know about all that back then, so I figured I’d have to pay out of pocket.

What did you enjoy most about your experience at Tulsa Welding School?

I don’t know about the best, but the coolest part was networking and connecting with people. So, if they didn’t finish school or they went their own way or whatever they did, I could still see what they’re doing and maybe later on down the road we could reconnect, help each other get a job or something. That’s how I looked at it. It’s a small world. Just working where I am now, it’s crazy how many men have said they worked with someone 10 years ago and now they’re at a company working with them again.

How did you find the hands-on program? Did it come easy or was it hard?

I’m very much a “let me see you do it and I can do it” person. If you just tell me how to do something, rather than show me, I won’t get it very well. It was really nice being that hands-on. I really enjoyed that. It came pretty easy to me. If I welded every single day, all day long, that was more than fine with me. I just love it so much. The smell of it, the ambiance. I don’t know. I just love it!

Did you come across any sexism at school that you discovered back as a 19/20-year-old?

There was no sexist stuff at all at Tulsa. It was a very comfortable environment.

So, where are you working now?

I finished class January 14 and on January 31 I started my welding career at W International building submarines. I’ve just completed my five-week training program to get certified to work for the government, and this is my first week on the floor. It’s just unbelievable. Just seeing what they’re welding on and what I’m going to get to do, I’m just so excited!

How did you get the job?

W International came to a job fair at the school and did a whole presentation. They were talking about South Carolina and $18/hour. They said, “You have a welding job if you can get to South Carolina after you graduate!” I thought, that’s crazy. I can’t just move across states to do this. It was just like an idea, a dream, you know? I went home, told my husband and he was just ecstatic for me. He said, “When are we leaving? Let’s go!” It makes me so emotional because he is so supportive, so down for his chick to be around a bunch of men all day. So, we moved over here with our one-year-old daughter right after school finished.

It sounds like your husband is very proud of you.

He saw me go to all those places trying to get a welding job back in the day. He saw how heartbroken I was when I wasn’t given the time of day. So, when I came home and he saw my excitement about this opportunity, he couldn’t take that away from me. He wanted me to have that, so here we are. My husband’s a mechanic. He had an accident at work while I was at school and broke his knee. So, he was at home while I was going to school, he was a babysitter. But once our daughter gets to a certain age that she’s able to talk and tell me things, then I’ll put her in daycare, and I want my husband to start welding.

A family of welders! Are you happy with what you’re making?

It’s a new opportunity, and it won’t be $18/hour forever. I plan on doing everything as perfect as I can, so after my 90 days I can ask for $25/26 an hour. I have been waiting this long to prove myself, I’m not going to let myself down now. I’m just so eager to prove myself, to show what I can do.

 

A couple of months in, are you enjoying it? What’s your career plan from here?

Oh my gosh, I am ecstatic. I plan on retiring with W at this point. Everything is so wonderful beyond words, just the morale at work. Everybody’s just so nice and so encouraging. They are telling me I have a good head on my shoulders and that I’d be able to succeed and move up in the company with no problem. It’s just such positive uplift from this point on.

Sounds like the opposite of what you faced seven or eight years ago?

Absolutely. My first day of work I came home, and I told my husband that this is like a dream. He told me, “Baby, that’s because you’re living your dream.” I just broke down crying because I can’t even believe it.

What do you enjoy most about being a welder?

I really like the challenge. I wanted to weld, but I didn’t know how in depth it would be. At W International, we weld some crazy things. It’s just the unknown of where welding is going to take me. That’s exciting to me, it keeps me going. I keep impressing myself with all the different obstacles that I’m overcoming.

Did you make some lasting connections at school?

Yeah, I have a few friends that I’m trying to talk into coming up here. It’s a good opportunity.

What advice do you have for students to be successful at Tulsa Welding School?

No matter how hard things get, just push forward, and live out your dream. Don’t give up on your dream, it’s not worth it. It’s so rewarding. To say that I finally did this after nearly ten years, it’s just unbelievable.

 

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).