Graduate Connections – Meet Brett Breakstone

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Brett, 23, was born in Ohio but calls St Louis, Missouri, home as that’s where he was raised. He graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in July 2022, and now lives in Texas.

Thanks for your time, Brett. What did you do before enrolling at welding school?

I had a scholarship to play Lacrosse at a small college in Illinois. I went there for half a semester, but it wasn’t working for me. I moved back with my parents (in Texas) while I figured things out for a while. Then I moved back to Missouri and tried community college two more times. But again, school just never really quite worked for me. From there I hit the workforce. I was a manager at a pizza place, then my last job before welding school was a factory manager at a FedEx Ground warehouse.

Was it bookwork you struggled with at college?

Honestly, I struggle a lot with general anxiety, and that was a big part of it. I also felt I was sat in a classroom going through things that wouldn’t necessarily help me in the long run. You know, learning math to do a writing degree or vice versa. It was those Gen Ed classes that I disliked more than anything. I wanted to walk into a school and learn what I wanted to learn, and not have to take all the extra fluff around it.

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That makes sense. Are you okay to share about the anxiety?

Yes, I’m very open about that. I’ve struggled with it all my life and I was very anxious about going to Tulsa Welding School, but it completely blew me away with how comfortable I was there.

I appreciate you sharing that. Where did the idea of welding come from?

Welding is something that’s been a part of my family for generations. We have a lot of farming history in our family. I knew I had family members who had been welders, grandpas, or great uncles. It’s something that I’d always heard about. My cousin in Kansas is a welder now.

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So, is that where the idea of going to welding school came from?

My mom said that if I wanted to go back to school, I should look at a trade school. It was toward the end of my time with FedEx. I was overworked, working nights, stuff like that. My wife and I were on our way home to Missouri from visiting my parents in Dallas, and I saw a billboard for Tulsa Welding School.

In that moment, it felt like it was the right thing to do. I’d talked about trade school for months leading up to that, and I knew welding was something that interested me. It all kind of snapped together in that moment. I knew this was what I was supposed to be doing. We moved down to Tulsa a couple months later.

Had you done any welding before in high school, or with family or friends?

No, I had zero welding experience.

Did you research the trade at all?

I knew you can make good money in any trade, especially if you hone your craft. Then I started thinking more about welding on things like airplanes. That would be very interesting to me. So I didn’t really look into it, but I knew what I’d be doing, and I knew I could make good money doing it.

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

I enjoyed the fact that there were no egos. It was just very comfortable. I didn’t feel like there were instructors who’ve been going for 45 years and know everything about the trade, and I’m just this inferior kid. It was very calm, no intensity on that front. Their attitude was, “Here’s a group of people who don’t know anything about welding, so let’s teach them how to do it.” It was very comfortable in that sense.

You mentioned your anxiety issues earlier. How long did it take for that to fade?

By the end of the first phase was when I really started to feel more comfortable in my craft and got in the groove. I started waking up like, “Cool, let’s get ready, let’s go. I’m excited to go to school.”

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That’s helped you beyond welding, I guess.

Oh, 100%. It was a life lesson that things aren’t as scary as they sometimes seem. You think of welders as these big, blue-collar guys; maybe the gruff and rough stuff. But it’s not that at all. You walk in to TWS and it’s just amazing, diverse people of all ages, genders, and races. There’s just a brotherhood of welders.

With no experience, did welding come easy to you, or was it frustrating?

I took to it pretty quickly. I walked in with the mentality of, “I’ve never done this before, I know I’m not going to be great.” I was managing my own expectations. Daily improvement was always the biggest thing I was looking for. There will be times, like any job/profession, when you’re going to get frustrated with yourself, with the day or even with the week, but it’s about making sure that you keep moving forward. The instructors helped. They were amazing. They are very diverse, different people. I had guys in their thirties who’d been welding for 15 years, and guys in their sixties who’d been welding 40 years. Every one of the instructors, the staff, the director, all of them were just very open, welcoming, and helpful.

So, did you have a job lined up at graduation?

I didn’t have anything lined up because I wasn’t sure if we were going to stay in Tulsa. My wife, Sienna, has family in Tulsa, and I have family in Dallas. After looking between the two, we decided Dallas would be a better job market. Career Services helped me create a great résumé, and I just started sending out all my applications and, thankfully I landed a job right outside of Dallas.

Who are you working for?

I’m working for TDH Manufacturing in Rome, Texas. I’m doing aluminum fabrication for trucks. I’m one of four aluminum welders. It’s mostly TIG welding with a little bit of MIG. We make anything from the boxes on the side of the trucks, to door covers, to the actual frame itself. I started in September and I’m loving it. I love my coworkers. I work four 10-hour shifts, which is very nice. Just welding in the professional world is a different experience. It’s fun. I’m surrounded by three other guys doing the same thing, and I’m just there welding on different things all day. It’s fun for me. I love it that much that it’s not even a job!

Are you happy with what you’re making financially?

I’m not starting off the very top obviously, but I’m starting off at a good wage that I know I can very easily build on. Maybe two years down the line, once I’ve built some experience, we’ll see where I’m at. I now have a career where I know that how much I get paid depends on how much I work at my craft. The quality of life working where I am now is 100% better than FedEx. I’m working 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, maybe some overtime on Fridays, which will only be a half day to do deadlines.

What’s your career plan from here?

Down the line, I’d really like to get into aerospace, working either on planes or even somewhere like SpaceX, working on space shuttles, or something crazy like that! And then I have a lot of friends back in Missouri that live on the lake. I’ve thought about opening a shop somewhere on the lake and going around repairing docks and boats, just having a lake life. Nice and easy, laid back, have my own business and be my own boss. Those are two things I’ve definitely thought about. But as of right now I’m thinking at least two years here to try to build up some experience, and then see where that can take me.

What do you enjoy most about being a welder?

The focus. I can just go under my hood and weld something for however long it takes. I come up and realize it’s been four hours because I just get so lost in what I’m doing. I’ve only worked two weeks at this company, but it’s felt like two days. Each day flies by because I’m able to focus on welding. And now that I’m welding in an actual professional sense, seeing a whole truck put together and knowing that I built the actual base frame for it is so cool. That whole truck, everything that’s on top of it right now, is on top of the thing that I built. It’s wild to think that it started off with a couple pieces of cut aluminum that I put together.

Did you make some lasting connections, friends, that you’ll stay in touch with?

I’ve made friends now that I’ll be probably friends with for life, including some instructors. With my classmates it’s simply because we all started welding school at the same time. It was just such an open and comfortable environment that it was very easy to get to know everyone around you.

What advice do you have for new students to be successful at TWS?

Don’t stop, do not quit. You’re going to have rough days where you just can’t seem to do what you need to do, but no matter what, don’t stop. Because once you get to that very last phase of the program, and you’re walking out of school for the last time, it will all hit you at once. “Wow, I know what I can do now. I can walk in somewhere, set it a weld and do 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).