Gilberto, 29, was born in Mexico. He was raised in Oklahoma from the age of six and became a US citizen in 2018. Gilberto graduated from the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in May 2019.
Thanks for your time, Gilberto. Was attending welding school a career change for you?
I was already welding out in the field. I was stick welding 7018. I started at the lumberyards in Florida, at the papermills. I also learned a little MIG and flux out on the road. But it is true what people say: you can only learn so much in the field. I was making the best money I ever made in my life, but at the same time, you can’t really depend on someone wanting to teach you to become better than them.
Why do you say that?
It’s human nature. Nobody wants you to become better than them because you become a threat. Could this person replace me or take my job? It really comes down to that, and I had firsthand experience of that in the field. I’m a very quick learner, and I like learning. Whenever someone taught me something, I got it right off the bat. People noticed that, and instead of having people teach me the right way, they would purposely teach me the wrong way. They’re messing with my livelihood at that point. I didn’t take very kindly to that and decided to take a step back and get professional training, advice from people who wanted to teach me everything they know.
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When did you first learn to weld?
I did do some welding in high school, but I never really thought I was going to make a career out of it. My instructors told us that welding is one of the best fields, and you can make some great money, but I was a teenage kid. I didn’t believe them, and anything anyone told me went in one ear and out the other!
What changed your mind?
I got older and went out into the world and experienced some things. Before I went out on the road as a welder, I was working two or three jobs—fast food, cashier—just to make ends meet. That got old quickly. I did that for three to four years before I thought, “This is stupid. I need to get a real job. This isn’t high school anymore. It’s time for a career change.”
How did you get into welding at that point?
Through a friend who had gone to Tulsa Welding School. He said he had some buddies who needed a hand welding on the road. He asked me if I could stick weld; I said sure and we took it from there. It was the best money I’d ever made. I made over $50k that year, not working more than eight hours a day, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. For a guy used to working two to three jobs, I enjoyed that.
What did you enjoy most about the welding program?
I enjoyed that you really do get out what you put in. If you go in there with a high school mentality, to gossip and make friends, you’re going nowhere. I didn’t go there to make friends. I went to Tulsa Welding School to get better at my trade, to better provide for my family. It was the best time of my life because I got to learn something that I enjoyed.
What shift did you attend at school?
The morning shift (7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). I worked full-time from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m doing appliance assembly at Whirlpool, so I didn’t have a lot of time in between. I can tell you I’ve slept well these past 30 days, catching up on seven months of missed sleep!
So you graduated a month ago. Where are you working?
Matrix Service at the port of Catoosa. I was working for them a month and half before I even graduated. We build and maintain critical infrastructure—structural, vessels, tanks. I started with them as a helper because I was still at school. I was fine with that. They were paying be $17 an hour to be a helper. At Whirlpool, I was only making $14.
I got lucky. One weekend a couple of guys didn’t show up and my boss asked who can weld pipe. I raised my hand, and he looked at me like I was crazy. I showed him and got certified right there. That’s when I saw the dollar signs!
How did you get the job?
One thing that got their attention when I interviewed was that I already had a 12-hour job on the same schedule (3 p.m. to 3 a.m.), and that I was dedicated. I had stayed working at a place with a high turnover rate. That and the fact that I had perfect attendance at school let them know that I was reliable and serious about my trade. All that helped me get my foot in the door.
Are you happy with where you are now financially?
Yes. I’m making over a grand a week. I’m making more than I made on the road, without the expense of being on the road. I get to come home to my family every day. I really like Matrix.
Tell us about your family.
My wife Brianna and I have been married for seven years, and we have a seven-year-old daughter.
What does your career plan look like?
One of the reasons I picked Matrix was that if I ever want to go back on the road, they have road crews. So I can travel with them if I want to. I can grow with the company. Whatever adjustment I need to make, in case I run into a hiccup financially, I can make with them. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
What I tell people is that it is no fast food job! Matrix is not a high-pace environment. When you get your traveler (aka blueprints), you’re not rushed. Your foreman is not huffing and puffing about how you need to hurry up. Their safety and non-incidents days are in the thousands. It’s a very safe environment and they want you to take your time, they want the quality and for you to do it right the first time. That’s what I like most about my job, that and it’s a friendly, fun environment. Everybody gets serious when they need to, but people are not afraid of joking around, and I like that.
What advice would you give to people considering Tulsa Welding School?
Make sure it’s what you want to do. If it is, then make sure you are fully committed. If your heart and mind are not fully into it, it’s not going to work out. You get out what you put in, so go in with the right attitude. Otherwise, you’ll flunk out. Have great attendance and put in the work. If you’re coming out of high school, grow up, get over yourself, and lose the high school attitude. Take the advice that’s given to you and make the most of your time in school. Stay in the booth and keep practicing! Try your best to make your welds better each day, one hour at a time, one day at a time. Do that and you’ll make the best money you have ever made in your life. But it’s all on you.
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