Cameron, 19, from Gainesville, Florida, graduated from the Professional Welder program in March 2021 at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville.
Thanks for your time, Cameron. Did you enroll in TWS right out of high school?
I did. I graduated high school about three months after COVID started, in June 2020. I got an apartment in Jacksonville and started at Tulsa in September 2020.
What made you choose a career in welding?
I’ve just always wanted to do welding. It’s just something that I’ve always thought about doing. t’s been my goal. I didn’t do any welding in high school, and I didn’t really know that much about it. I just thought it was something that I want to do.
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So, you went to welding school with zero experience?
Did you find it hard, or get frustrated at first?
Not really. Well, I mean, yes and no. The instructors there are not hard on you. Everyone’s really nice. But I did get frustrated sometimes, but that kind of just drove me on, you know.
You didn’t want to let it beat you?
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Yes, in a way. But I’d already paid, so I wanted to get my money’s worth too. I wanted to just keep doing it until I could get as good as I could get.
Did you have to work while at school?
I worked a part-time job as a janitor for the first half of the program, but after that, I was able to just focus on school. I was at school from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., then at work from 7:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. the first half of the program.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?
Probably the people I met there, both my classmates and the instructors. The instructors were always available for questions and gave us the attention we needed. Anytime I needed help, they were there.
Did you have the opportunity to stay on for extra practice time in the booth?
I tried to be there whenever I could. When I was working, I was only able to be there during class time, but it was easier after I stopped working. That’s when I’d come in at around 8:00 a.m. and stay until they closed the campus at 11pm.
You graduated just a couple of weeks ago. Where are you working?
I’m working for Stellar. I started about 10 days ago, about a week after I finished class. Right now, I’m working on a project in Arkansas at the Nestlé plant where they make Stouffer’s and Hot Pockets. It’s a $100 million extension to their plant. At the moment I’m just spotting, but I’m waiting for the stainless weld test that I took to come back. Once that comes back, they’ll have me welding stainless pipe.
There’s a lot of money in Hot Pockets! Talking of money, are you happy with what you’re making?
Yes, I’m making $23 an hour and I get a $70 per diem. I’m doing 70 hours a week at the moment, so that’s 30 hours overtime at like $35 an hour. I’m excited to get my first check on Friday. It should be pretty good! I thought a $70 per diem would cover more expenses, but it doesn’t, but it’s okay. It doesn’t help that there’s a law in Arkansas that you have to be 21 or older to get a hotel, so I’ve been doing a lot of Airbnbs. The problem with Airbnb is that they book up real fast, so I’m not sure where I’ll be tomorrow night! But I’m not worried about it. I can always sleep in my truck. I’ll figure something out!
That’s pretty good money straight out of school. So, this will be a traveling job?
Yes. This project is six months, but I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Any day they could call me and have me drive or fly somewhere else.
How did you get the job?
One of my welding instructors at Tulsa – James Howard – personally knew one of the bosses there; he contacted him and said I was ready. Then James gave me their phone number. I called and they had me take a carbon steel weld test in Florida. Then they x-rayed it. Once the x-ray came back positive, I was able to go to the job site. So now I have to wait on the stainless test because a lot of the pipes there are stainless because of refrigeration and being food grade.
What’s your career plan?
I’m going to take all my welding money and buy real estate, then sell it when the market goes back up and not have to work anymore! That’s my plan!
What if a housing crash doesn’t come?
Then I’ll probably work this job until I have enough money to buy a trailer park and I can start making some passive income. I don’t want to retire as welder. I’ve seen older welders, and I don’t want to end up like them all beaten up. I don’t want to be doing this for 30 years.
What do you enjoy most about your trade?
I just like watching the puddle. It’s hard to explain. I’m also excited about the travel; I’d like to go farther out west for sure. I’ll go wherever they send me. They have projects all over the U.S. I was actually going to go to California for my first job, then right before I left, he told me to go to Arkansas.
Did you make some lasting connections, some friends at welding school?
Yeah, I’d say there are about three that I’ll stay in touch with, and maybe try and work with at some point. I’d love to work with them! One of them stayed on at Tulsa Welding School to do the Pipefitting program.
What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School?
What you put in is what you’ll get out. It’s all about the effort you put in. The more effort that you put in, the better your results are going to be. Honestly, that’s everything. I’d say the same thing ten times.
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