Arthur, 25, originally from San Antonio, Texas, graduated the Welding Specialist with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in July 2022.
Thanks for your time, Arthur; what did you do before coming to welding school?
I come from a working-class background. I left Texas for Florida when I was 11 or 12. I was in Fort Lauderdale for six or seven years, but moved back to Texas, this time to Houston, in 2020 due to COVID. I graduated high school in 2015, and in 2016 I joined U.S. Army as a Reservist. I had a deployment in 2018. So, for the past six years I’ve been in the reserves; I just recently became inactive.
Thank you for your service. What did you do for work when not deployed?
I started working in movie theaters; I made my way up the chain to management. When I moved out and started to live on my own, I had to pick up a second job. So, I did landscaping work during the day, then worked movie theaters at night, before becoming an IMAX projection manager at night.
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Where did the idea of welding and/or pipefitting come from?
I never liked school. I knew I could go to college and be decent, but I was never a fan of sitting in class being taught for hours, reading books. I’m a hands-on learning kind of guy. I have friends in construction; they’re starting to move up, get better pay, better positions, and I’ve done some construction, so I thought what could I do to basically eliminate my two-job lifestyle? I wanted to work one job and make more money than two combined. I started looking around and welding seemed like a career in high demand; I found Tulsa Welding School in Houston and it looked like a proper institution, so I signed up for a tour.
Had you ever done any welding?
I’d played around with welding machines…nothing crazy. I’d just done some small stuff to my truck that just looks terrible, now I think about it…terrible welding! But I had no real experience going into it.
Did you enroll in the Welding & Pipefitting program from the start, or add pipefitting later?
On my tour, my very first visit, I was just intending to go look around, ask questions. I ended up signing up for the Professional Welder program right away! Day one and I was 100% all-in. I signed up for the pipefitting towards the very end, maybe the last month, of the welding program.
What made you do that?
I figured I’d already spent seven months, what’s two and a half more going to do to me? I wanted to give myself the best possible chance, the best edge, to give me better opportunities once I graduated.
What did you enjoy most about your experience at Tulsa Welding School?
Watching myself grow and seeing how I started to do things better and better over time, how everything started to look a lot crisper. Just seeing my skills immensely skyrocket was satisfying because I put in 110% effort into every single thing I did every day, and it really paid off.
Were you working, or were you able to stay on and practice after class?
Fortunately, I wasn’t working. I had savings built up exactly for that reason. I was able to show up extra early and leave extra late. I probably put in an extra ten hours a week practicing.
How was the program – easy or hard? Were you nervous?
The first week was pretty unnerving, as anything would be. It was my first time there, surrounded by people I didn’t know, starting a career profession I had no knowledge of. We went through the safety courses, and I was just really uneasy about it, unsure if it was right for me. But once we started going into the lab, getting hands-on, I settled into it. The instructors would come into my booth, show me what I was doing wrong and how to fix it, and as soon as I figured everything out, it started to come quite easy to me.
How were the instructors? Did you get what you needed out of them?
I had every available opportunity and asset handed to me on a silver platter. Every instructor was super nice, very knowledgeable. Some of these instructors could just stare at me, watch my hand move, and tell me if I’m doing something wrong or right. Just by looking at me? It’s crazy. They’re very good. They passed things on beyond the curriculum; the tricks of the trade that you would have never thought of.
You graduated a month ago; where are you working and how did you get the job?
It was the same day I’d just done a weld test for a different company offering $15/hour. I was pretty much hired on the spot, and I thought, okay. I could do that. I was due to start the next Monday. Then I get a call from Career Services saying, “Hey, Patterson-UTI in Houston would like to hire you.” I asked, “Okay, what’s the starting hourly rate?” They told me it was $23/hour, so I called the other guys and said, “Sorry, I’m going to be a pipefitter!” This was about a week and a half after I finished school.
How did they know about you? You’d never interviewed with them?
The school sent in my résumé. They saw pipefitter, that was it. They were in desperate need of pipefitters.
So, they kind of ‘bought you’ sight unseen?
Pretty much. I showed up; they’d never seen me, and I’ve never seen them. They showed me where to walk to, I went to my little orientation and day one, I started working a 12-hour shift. The machines we make for the oil and gas industry are on a scale you wouldn’t really expect to see, you have to be there to believe it. I’m making the giant machines that basically pump the drilling fluid for these oil rigs.
You’ve been there two weeks. Enjoying it?
Oh, I love it. I apply everything I learned at Tulsa Welding School every single day at my job. Literally, every single thing that they taught me at Tulsa, I do it or use it every day. I’m so happy I paid attention!
It sounds like you’re happy with the money in your first job out of school.
Very. They started me at $23, and anything over 40 hours I make $33/hr. Monday-Friday is a 12-hour shift, and every other weekend is overtime. It’s a guaranteed 60-hour week, plus around 20 hours every other weekend. I make more in one week in this job than I ever did in two weeks with two jobs.
What’s your career plan from here?
I’ll stay here for maybe two years or so, then I want to explore my options. I want to see what is out there. I do have the Top-Secret clearance from the Army, so I can probably do Army contracts or pipeline welding. I’m also scuba certified, so I could definitely do under underwater welding. I’m looking at all these different options, but first I’m trying to get as much experience under my belt as possible.
Is there scope for growth with Patterson-UTI in the meantime?
There’s room for growth. The company had like 13 people just 18 months ago, and now we’re up to 80/90 people. Everything’s expanding quickly, and work is flowing in. There are definitely places to go here.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
I’d say the final bolt up. I just spent three days making a massive, multi-thousand-pound manifold for this machine. I’m watching these guys lift it in a crane, knowing that it’s good to go for the first time. It’s being bolted up to a machine, that’s what gets me. Seeing what you create and seeing it get put in place.
Did you make some lasting connections, some friends at school you’ll stay in touch with?
I went in knowing nobody and came out with a solid circle of friends that I still keep in contact with. Networking is key.
What advice do you have for students to be successful at Tulsa Welding School?
I would say don’t stress, don’t worry. Mistakes are going to happen. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning. If you really want it, just put in that extra effort. Put in 100% or 110%. Stay later, get there a little earlier, and 100%, you will come out on top.
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).