Faith, 34, originally from New York, graduated from the Professional Welder with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in June 2021.
Thanks for sharing your story, Faith. Tell us what you did before coming to Tulsa Welding School.
I went into fast-food out of high school. My goal was to be a store manager, a restaurant manager. I’d been in fast food for 15/16 years before welding school. But it’s hard to move up in that business. If a manager sees a hardworking person, they want you to stay to run their store, instead of having your own.
Where did the idea of welding school come from?
Honestly the pandemic nudged me. I’d just got a good job at IHOP, a good position on good money early in 2020. But when the pandemic hit, they were so quick to let a good worker go, I realized I needed more security. I saw the Tulsa Welding School commercials saying, “Seven months, change your life!” I thought, “Shoot, I’ve got seven months and I want to change my life!” So, that’s how that went!
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Did you enroll in the pipefitting course from the start?
Actually, it was a last-minute thing. I didn’t know I was going to stay for the Pipefitting course. I talked to my financial advisor in student services, going over my plan for after graduation. I wasn’t quite sure what welding work I wanted to do at the time. So, she gave me another option. She said pipefitting goes hand in hand with welding and having pipefitter skills, as well as my welding skills, could mean I get paid more. Having both skills would give me a foot in the door with either, no matter what I want to do. So it was kind of a no-brainer for me. To have both skills, it’s a great combination.
Had you done any welding before?
I knew nothing about welding. I didn’t know a welder from tin foil! I just saw the commercials on TV and thought, “I could do that!” I’ve always loved the idea of working with my hands, I’ve just never had a job that would allow me to do it.
Where were you living at the time?
I’d moved from New York, to North Carolina, and then I came to Jacksonville, Florida in 2017, so that’s how I saw the commercials.
So, was your first experience of welding on the school tour before enrolling?
No, I couldn’t take an in-person tour because COVID had just broken out. They were going into shutdown mode. So I did an online tour, there was a little presentation. But what I saw online was really exciting for me! My first thought that this experience was real was when I got my tools in my hands.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?
The culpability. Even though I went through the whole program during a pandemic, it still felt like if I needed help with anything, the school was so helpful. They had such an open-door policy. Not just the faculty, the teachers, but the staff and students too. It wasn’t just one teacher willing to help, it was the whole campus. They really do care. Everybody who teaches welding there has done it for years, and they really do care from beginning to end.
Once you got your hands on a welder, how was it? Fun, exciting, nerve-racking?
It was all of the above. I scared myself for the first couple of weeks! Once you spark it, you have to keep welding, you can’t just stop. That’s what I used to do. It would spark big, and I’d stop because I was shocked. I had to get used to that.
You had to rephase. Was that because of the pandemic?
No, it was because welding is hard! I had to rephase Phase Three twice. I found flux core welding really difficult; I wanted to rethink my whole life at that moment, but I didn’t give up!
Congratulations on staying motivated. What made you keep going?
I’m a sore loser, so that motivated me. I didn’t want to let it beat me! What really helped was another student who saw me struggling. I didn’t know him. He said, “You’re doing that wrong!” He showed me some ways, like the teacher showed me, but everyone teaches differently. The way he showed me just caught on. After that we worked together for about three hours! We did three pipes together and I got it! I asked him he if had anything else he should be doing, and he said, “No, I’m good. I’m like four projects ahead!” That’s what I mean about everybody at the campus being helpful.
That’s awesome. I understand you started a new job today, is that right?
Yes, I started at Tenneco in Harrisonburg, Virginia today. My boyfriend and I made the long trip up this weekend. Today was my orientation and I start on the floor tomorrow. I will have my own booth; I’ll be welding pipe parts together.
You graduated in June. Did it take you a while to find a job?
Actually, no. I can’t believe how quickly time is flying by. It didn’t take long for me to find this job. I took some time off after school and didn’t look for a while. But once I started looking, I called Career Services on a Friday, had an interview on the Monday, and a week later here I am in Virginia having just done my first day. It happened really quickly.
After a career in restaurants, are you happy with the money you’re starting on as a welder?
Oh yes. Their starting pay is the most I’ve ever made on any job! At IHOP, even though that was a good job, I was just on a salary. With Tenneco, I get overtime. So not only is the pay better, I will also get the opportunity to make more with overtime at the weekend, or by staying for a 12-hour shift. They pay weekly and are even paying me a relocation bonus. I get that bonus this Friday, and the following week I’ll get my first check. They are also paying for a hotel for three weeks while we find somewhere to live.
What’s your career plan from here; what’s your ultimate career goal?
I do want to do other things once I have some experience. Once I’m done working for other companies and have built up a little nest egg, I want to open my own business. I would like to be a freelance welder and pipefitter working and traveling through the Road Dogs. They do shutdowns mostly. I need my own truck, my own rig for that. I’ll be traveling all over the country. I like to travel, so that would be a fun job.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
I don’t have to deal with people! After 15 years in fast food, I don’t have to deal with people anymore!
Did you make any friends, people you will stay in touch with?
I haven’t really made long-term friends, but I’ve helped people along the way. One girl started when I started, and she is still there. She’s had to rephase several times. She was depressed and ready to quit. I helped her because I’d done it. I told her I managed it, and her welds are 100x better than mine and I’m a good welder! I let her know she can’t quit. She wanted a new job as she worked at Walmart. I told her to go to Career Services, and yes, they got her a new job. I just told her to keep pushing forward.
What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School?
Cut out the unnecessary fat; just go for the Prime Rib!! What I mean is get rid of all the unnecessary things in your life that can steal your focus. If you need to go to sleep earlier because welding is tiring, then do it. It’s hard, and you will fall down a bunch of times, but don’t give up. It’s not about how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get up and what you do about 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).