Ashton, 18, from Giles County, Virginia, graduated the seven-month Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in February 2022.
Thanks for your time, Ashton. You’re only 18. Did you go to welding school right out of high school?
Yep, I sure did. I graduated high school when I was 17, and I was in Florida by the time I turned 18.
What made you choose a welding career?
It really started in high school. It was the end of my sophomore year, and I was in Agriculture class. My teacher asked if anyone wanted to try a little welding. I thought, why not, I’ll give it a shot. The first time I tried it, I thought it was really cool, so I decided to go to a vo-tech center my junior and senior years.
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Why did you choose TWS in Jacksonville? Did you consider Tulsa or Houston?
So, we have these championships in vo-tech schools. It’s called SkillsUSA. My senior year, my teacher and I worked really hard at it; he wanted to push and push me. He asked the class if anybody wanted to try out for SkillsUSA. I wasn’t too sure, because I thought I really wasn’t that good.
But I came home and talked to my parents about it, and they told me I should really try for it. It was the last day that submissions had to be in, so I told my teacher to put my name down. I tried out, and I actually came in first place for my school district. Then I went to the State championship, and I won that.
So, I got to participate in nationals. But before the nationals came up, my teacher pulled in the class and said, “Boys, we have ourselves a state winner!” My heart stopped for a second as he told me congratulations. As we were going back into the shop, he gave me a sticky note and told me to call this number, this guy wants to talk to you. It was a guy named Larry from Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville, Florida. Larry saw that I’d won state, and he wanted to give me full-ride tuition scholarship to TWS. I talked to my parents about it, and they pushed me to do it, so that’s how it went!
Aside from the scholarship, the best part is my teacher had never had anybody go to nationals before in all his time teaching at the vo-tech school. So, I was the first one ever in Giles County to go to national.
That’s awesome. Congratulations. What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?
Just everything that I learned down there, everything new, things I didn’t know. I enjoy learning new things. I also absolutely enjoyed the people down there, my classmates. They were great people. They were helpful. Just everything was great. I loved it.
Did you find the program pretty easy with two years welding experience?
Yeah, I did find it pretty easy. I actually had a couple of people come up to me and ask for a little bit of help. I went over there and helped them and showed them what to do, how I’d do it. Not to brag, but they ended up like me, doing really well! Of course, everybody’s going to have a bad day when everything you do that day is going to suck. There were a couple of days where I was just not in the mood for it. So, I just packed up all the stuff and went back to my place and started fresh the next day.
Did you ever wonder if you had made the right choice by going for welding?
Welding is all about practice. It’s finding that technique and then repeating it, repeating it, repeating it until you don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s like riding a bike; it’s a skilled trade that you’ll never forget. You’ve got to keep it up, though. You’ve got to keep your magic hand as I call it!
Having had two years at a welding vo-tech, did you need to go to TWS? Are you glad you went?
Oh, yes, it was a life saver. I have so many more opportunities now. Here at home, I barely had any opportunities after vo-tech. Now I get phone calls left and right, whenever and wherever I want because of the certificate from Tulsa, and the additional experience I got there.
Good for you. So, where are you working?
I work for CMSERM; Custom Manufacturing Services and East River Metals. It’s actually like three companies built into one. I’m doing MIG welding, and a little bit of TIG here and there. At the moment I’m actually making some pretty big fans. We just had one put up today.
What’s your career plan from here?
I’ve got a plan pretty well set, at least as I want it right now. My plan is to buy an old truck, a dually, and put a welding machine on the back of it. Then do some side jobs and earn a little extra of money, and of course, work still. But once I start earning a little bit of money, I’m going to do these things called shutdowns. Shutdowns are when you have big plants or factories to shut down. They call us to go in and take out old pipes and put in new while the factory is shut down. That’s really, really, good money right there. You go work for a couple of months, and then once you get done, you have the next two or three months off until you find another one.
So, is that a couple of years away you think? Or sooner?
It’s going to take a while because it’s really hard to do it right off the bat, straight out of school. You could do it that way. I actually have a buddy I went to Tulsa with; he’s started doing shutdowns already. He’s working for a company called Helfrich Brothers. He’s actually traveled to like five or six different states since we left school in February. I’ve got to say that he did have some prior welding experience before going to Tulsa, too, like me. But for me personally, I want to get more experience under my belt to where I can build up my résumé, then go out and do it.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
I find it doing the work itself really, really, satisfying. Once I flip my hood down, I’m in my own little world. I’m just doing this all my own. I block out everything around me and focus on what I’m doing right in front of me.
Are you happy with where you’ve started financially?
Yeah. Speaking of, I actually got my first paycheck deposited this morning. I get paid every two weeks, and I’ve been there two weeks! When I opened up my bank account, I thought, “That’s pretty cool!”
Did you make some connections at Tulsa? People you will stay in touch with?
Oh yeah, definitely. I try to talk to one or other of them just about every day if I can.
What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School?
I would definitely tell people if you’re getting frustrated with something, the more you do it, the worse it’s going to get if you stay frustrated at it. So, stop, take a break and ask for help. Don’t just keep trying something that’s not working. Ask for help. Find a different way of doing it. Never be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes we’ve got to do things on our own, but it also never hurts to ask for help. I sure had to. I had to ask for help a lot, and it doesn’t matter how good you are. Get there on time, have good attendance, and if you feel like you need to get better, stay late and practice. I stayed right until the shop closed countless times.
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).