John, 29 from Houston, TX, completed the Welding Specialist with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in December 2018. He will walk the stage in March.
Thanks for your time, John. What brought you to Tulsa Welding School?
I was in the state penitentiary for selling drugs. I got out and 30 days later I was in Tulsa Welding School.
What made you choose welding?
There were a lot of guys in the penitentiary who were welders. They would tell me about the jobs they’d had out on oil rigs and such. They told me how easy welding is once you get the hang of it, and how much money they made. It seemed welders make the most money out of all the trades. Honestly, I was used to making good money selling drugs. I needed something where I could make a lot of money and not fall back into that life. I also didn’t want to spend too long in school. I knew I would be able to knuckle down and finish this program. Before I got out, I had my girlfriend do some research on trade schools, then when I got out, Tulsa was the first school I called. India is the very best enrollment advisor the school has, so she set me right up. That’s how I ended up in welding.
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How long had you been in prison?
It was 22 months, then another six months. But the last six months was only four months after I got out before, so it was a wake-up call.
Had you done any welding in high school?
None. I got expelled from high school when I was 15. I didn’t go back. I got my GED in the penitentiary. This will be the first time I get to walk across a stage. I’m definitely going to my graduation ceremony on March 22.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
It was actually a person who helped me the most. Alcione, a student services advisor at the school, helped me so much. Without her help and trust, I wouldn’t have graduated. I definitely owe her. She really went to bat for me. I had a parole violation—I missed an at-home parole visit because I was at school—so I got locked up. I didn’t have anyone on my emergency contact list, so the school didn’t have anyone to call when I didn’t show up. If they’d have known, they could have dropped me so I could pick back up after. Instead they counted the time as missed days. When I got out, with Alcione’s help, I knew that I couldn’t afford to miss one day during the last five months of school, and I didn’t.
Where are you working?
I work for UTLX, the tank car company, in Sheldon, TX. Right now I’m just a tack welder. My trainer is a hands-on type person, so I got lucky. I started learning the very first day. He’s been there 16 years.
You graduated in December. How long did it take to get the job?
I was ecstatic about graduatin,g so I didn’t worry about looking for a job in December. I was celebrating! UTLX came to a job fair on January 4th. I did the interview and Ramsay test [an aptitude/attention test] at TWS, and they invited me to do a weld test at the job site later that month. After the weld test, they gave me paperwork to take to HR and schedule a panel board meeting for a mouth swab and full physical. Then they ran the background check. It was the longest two weeks of my life, but it all came out good in the end. I started two and half weeks ago in mid February.
Did your record make it harder to get a job?
Not at all. There are plenty of felons up there. If you can’t get a job at UTLX, you’re not applying yourself. It won’t be because of your record.
Was it exciting to get your first paycheck?
This is just my second full week, so my first pay check was only for three days. It was 26 hours, and I got $436 after tax. I’m making almost $20 an hour starting off, so that’s cool. After 90 days, I go to $22 an hour. I have the best job in the world, and I really don’t want to go to any other position. We have union benefits, but we’re not a union. My shift is 5 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Do you get overtime?
After eight hours a day, we go into overtime. If I work ten hours, two of them are overtime. That’s close to $30 an hour. I’m going to get 50 hours a week, minimum. If we get behind, we work Saturdays and Sundays, too. That doesn’t bother me; it’s just more money! I’m used to working two or three jobs and doing what I did on the side, so this is nothing for me. It’s actually very comfortable. I wake up happy every day.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
Knowing where I’ve come from and how much it took to get here. I’m very proud of myself. Anyone who’s been through what I’ve been through should be proud of themselves.
Do you have a good network of connections?
Yes, I was just talking to a guy today about graduation. He was coming into work as I was leaving. There are lots of Tulsa graduates here at UTLX. My cousin actually started welding school the week before me. Our graduation ceremony is next month. I also have another cousin who is going through the school now. I try to convince everybody I love who needs a new beginning to go to Tulsa Welding School, but only if they are serious about it.
What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?
Stay focused. If you’re going to do it, do it to your fullest potential. People all have problems they come across in life, but don’t get discouraged. Just keep pushing. I guarantee, at the end of it, if you want a job, you’ll get a job and make a lot of money. But you only get out what you put in, simple as that. If you don’t really want to learn how to weld, you’re not going to learn. If you really want a job, you can go into the field and get a job immediately. Pretty soon you’re going to have a career for the rest of your life. $20,000 is a very small payment for your future. It’s the best $23,000 I’ve ever spent, to be exact.
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).