Gino, 22, from Coleman, Texas, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in spring 2017.
Thanks for your time, Gino. Did you enroll in welding school right out of high school?
I did. It was a big change for me, moving to Houston to go to welding school, coming from a small town.
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Did you always want to be a welder?
No. My first thought was to become a game warden. As I learned more about it, I decided a four-year degree wasn’t for me. Honestly, I felt I wouldn’t go to class much and I’d fall behind. I also found out that I’d have to work out of town for a few years before I got the chance to work closer to home, you can’t just choose your assignment. I also discovered how little game wardens get paid.
What made you turn to welding? Is there a family connection?
One of my uncles was a pipefitter/welder. I heard him talk about it, but I never knew much about it. Then in my junior year, my sister’s boyfriend had a structural steel business. I worked for him, even though I couldn’t weld. I saw the guys welding and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. In my senior year, a rep from Tulsa Welding School came to my high school to do a presentation. He talked about welding on the pipeline. I did my research and saw you could make up to $4,500 a week welding pipe! I decided welding is where it’s at! The household I came from, we never had a whole lot of money and the traveling work caught my eye, big time.
Did you do any welding at high school?
I was in Ag class and my teacher knew how to weld, so he gave me a few pointers. Every single day he’d let me go in and just weld on whatever.
Why did you choose to go to Tulsa Welding School?
I’ve worked with people who went to other trade schools or community colleges; the majority of the time they’re not up to par. They can’t really hang. I’m definitely glad I went to Tulsa because it really got me up to speed. There are people I meet to this day who didn’t go to welding school, but have been welding for 20 to 30 years, and I’m better than them. It goes to show the right education definitely goes a long way.
With an uncle as a pipefitter, did you consider adding the pipefitting program?
I thought about it, but when you’re 19, it’s hard to turn down money! My brother-in-law wanted me to go back to work for him as a welder and I wanted to get in the real world and prove myself. I kind of regret it, but I can always go back for three months to do the Pipefitting course. It wouldn’t be a big deal.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
The teachers were really good, I was fortunate to have them. They made it easier to learn and I picked it up really quick. They are real, genuine people, and I built relationships with them. I still talk with some of them to this day. Even if they were quite a bit older, I was still able to relate to them and grow.
So talk to us about your career the past few years.
When I graduated I went right to work for my brother-in-law. I immediately had to take a structural weld test for a job, along with other guys who’d been working for him for a while. I found the test easy. I finished first and had the best weld. A couple of the guys didn’t even pass, so that was cool. Getting to work on buildings, walking on steel, hanging columns. It’s a whole different world, and I loved it. I still love it to this day, every single thing I do. I worked with him for about two years.
Where did you go from there?
After that I worked for a vessel company for about a year. I built big tanks, vessels, for the oil fields. It was a different kind of welding; it was wire (MIG) welding, not stick. I became good friends with the foreman and he owns the structural steel business that I work at now.
So who do you work for now?
The company is Barron Fabrications, based out of Coleman, Texas. They have company trucks and welding machines. We’re currently working on the reinforcement of Kerrville State Hospital. The building is 40 years old, and they are going to add a new building on top. The fact that I’m really good friends with the owner puts me in a good spot. It’s true what they say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!”
You graduated in 2017. How does real-world welding compare to school?
It’s very different to school. You have a lot of different factors to deal with, and you have to go at a faster pace. For example, when you weld on vessels, you have to weld for longer without stopping. In school, you only weld so many inches, like a plate that’s four or five inches long. But in a vessel shop, you weld at least 11 inches without stopping. You’ve also got to know how to read a measuring tape. I had to use what they called a “stupid tape” for a while. It shows all the 16ths and 8ths on it.
How was getting your first welding paycheck after school?
It was exciting. I was probably buying clothes and going a little crazy every Friday the first month! But the second month, I slowed down and started saving. I never had a vehicle in high school, so what made me the happiest was being able to get my first truck!
Money was a big driver for you. Are you happy with the money?
You have to realize, especially when you’re young, that you’re not going to get rich the first day. You’re not going to get paid what you think you’re worth because you just don’t have the experience. You have to be patient. You have to show your character; the way you talk, how you present yourself, how you go about dealing with problems. You don’t know it all. You’re going to learn something every single day; maybe something small or something major. You can be confident, but you have to be humble. Don’t be cocky. Your reputation is everything, so take pride in everything you do, and the money will come.
Where do you see your welding career going?
One day I’d like to work on the pipeline, but I definitely want to stay with this company as long as I can. I’m working towards getting a welding rig, a brand-new truck and all the tools I’ll need. I’m also trying to gain experience, be humble and learn something every day. I need to practice and get better, because on the pipeline if you mess up, say, three welds in 300, they’ll fire you on the spot. That’s how serious it is. My goal is to get my truck and my welder and keep practicing for at least two to four years. That way, no matter what they need me to do, no matter what the test is, I’ll be able to do it and not bust out.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
Being able to build something with my hands. When I’m working on structural steel, building buildings, all my welds have to be on point because I have people’s lives in my hands. To be able to pass by or walk through a building and think I built that makes me very proud. My grandparents are a big part of my life, so being able to show them my work and my work ethic has been a blessing to me.
What advice would you give to students for them to be successful at TWS?
Take advantage of the opportunity and stay in your booth. I noticed kids would take breaks or a long lunch and just sit there, but by the end of the week, they couldn’t pass the tests. Stay in the booth and practice. Eat your lunch, then get back to your booth. Don’t waste time. There are certain things that will make you mad. You will hate it at times, but at the end of the day, if you truly love it, you’re going to stick with it. That’s what you need to do. Stick with it and don’t ever give up. Don’t lose hope in the beginning. If you stick with it, you will notice yourself getting better. Then you’re going to want to get better than the guy next to you, and then you’ll want to be the best in your class.
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).