Jose, 59, from Brooklyn, NY, graduated from the Electro-Mechanical Technologies (EMT) program in June 2020 and the Professional Welder program in January 2021, both at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville.
Thanks for sharing your story, Jose. Tell us about your career before coming to TWS.
I joined the U.S. Army at 18. I spent 26 years in the military, a lot of it as a combat infantry soldier. I made it to First Sergeant. I retired in 2006 in my mid-40s, having been trained in certain jobs, but not really with a trade I could use outside. My options were law enforcement and/or corrections. So, I went to community college and got my Associate Degree in Criminal Justice. I then worked in corrections for 14 years.
Thank you for your service. What made you leave your job in corrections?
I was getting older. I didn’t want to work in a prison anymore after 14 years chasing down inmates. I needed to get a hobby and a trade where I could save money at the house and make money on the side.
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What made you choose Tulsa Welding School?
I’ve lived in Jacksonville since ’97, so I’ve seen the commercials on TV, the billboards while driving around. One of my neighbors went to Tulsa Welding School. He’s retired Navy, and he told me how great it was. Honestly, I saw how happy he was doing it. I had my GI Bill available, so I thought I’d look into it.
Why did you choose the Electro-Mechanical Technologies program?
Because it incorporated an electrical course, as well as the HVAC, and I wanted to learn that too—how to wire stuff around a home. For me at my age, wanting to start my own little business, I thought it would be a good trade to have. I was so happy, I learned so much from that program; it was exactly what I wanted. All the basic components of how an AC unit operated, and the refrigerant, all that stuff.
So, you weren’t really looking for a new career?
No, not a career. More a hobby that could save me and make me a little money. I have my own home and I’ve had to call people out to check my AC unit to discover all that was wrong was a fuse, or a dirty filter! After I graduated, a friend called me with a problem with his AC unit. And yes, it was a fuse! But he also a lot of clogs in his system, so we had to drain it out. I used all the techniques the school taught me, and I saved him money. I learned so much on that program. I’m working on my own system right now actually!
Awesome! What made you come back to do the welding program?
I’d never done any welding. In HVAC/refrigeration we do a little, but they call it brazing. You braze the small refrigerant pipes together. I saw the welding program and thought it might be a useful skill to know. It was only seven months, and I still had the GI Bill available. If I put them together, I’d have two trades. I started in July, a month after finishing the EMT program; I graduated the welding program in January.
Did you enjoy the hands-on time?
This is why this welding program is great. You spend one day a week in the classroom getting instruction, and the rest of the time you are welding in your booth. The instructors come to every booth and stay as long as you need. You’ve got to work with other students and help each other out. A lot of the time you can get stuck on something simple that another student will see straight away. That was pretty cool.
How did your first weld go?
I stuck my first weld; I didn’t know if I could do it. But my instructor, Jimmy, came into my booth and literally held my hand. He showed me how to unstick it and how to weld it. When I felt it, I knew I could do it. Welding is repetition; they start you out with regular basic welds and you just keep doing it over and over until you feel it. The more you do it, the more you feel it, the more you get it. From there on, they just build on through the program. I have a lot of respect for welders who go through this program. There are a lot of tests to go through. If you don’t pass, they are not going to just push you through. If you come out of the TWS welding program successfully, you know how to weld. That’s also true for the EMT program; if you don’t pass you have to rephase and the class again until you get it.
How were your instructors?
The instructors I had were excellent. I used to teach in the military; I was an ROTC instructor teaching cadets, so I’ve had some teacher training. I know good teachers. I’ve seen these guys stay late, work with a student if they were having a hard time. They want everyone to succeed. If you go to TWS and you really want to get something out of it, if you put in the effort, you will succeed. You will learn a trade and learn it the right way. I have kids and grandkids.I would have no problem with them going to TWS to learn a trade because they are definitely legit. The tuition is worth every penny.
So, you weren’t looking for a job after your welding graduation in January?
Career Services wanted to help me, but I told them at my age, I’m going to be an entrepreneur! I’m going to start my own business, do some side jobs part time, and see how far it goes. I’m going to do basic HVAC and welding jobs. On the welding side I’ll fix boat trailers, fencing or gates for farmers, mobile home fixes; just small repairs like that. Not big stuff. On the HVAC side I’ll do some maintenance tune-ups and clean ups and troubleshooting. I’m not looking to travel or work 70 hours a week. I’ve done all my traveling!
But I do want to let people know that the school has what they call Phase 11. That’s where businesses who are looking to hire come into the school to meet students. The school helps students prep for weld tests or interviews. We had companies come in from Louisiana, from Texas, all over. Tulsa Welding School will help you find a job if you want the help.
How did you find being back at school close to 60?
I enjoyed it; I love learning. I have a bachelor’s degree that I earned in the Army, and my associate degree. I was the oldest student in my class, and a lot of the kids looked up to me. I told them to never give up on this. That I wasn’t always good at whatever I was doing, but the longer I did it, the better I became. I told them that if they persevered, in time they’d be as good as the instructors. They would do a demonstration for us and make it look so easy. But the reason they make it look so easy is because they have 10/15/20 years under their belt. A bit like stripping a rifle for me; I did that so often I could do it with my eyes shut.
Did you make some lasting connections, some friends at welding school?
I did make some friends there, that was great. One guy in particular was Ben, he did the EMT program with me; I think we became close because he’s a retired Navy guy and I’m retired Army. He was like me; interested in saving money around the house and getting a trade to make a little money!
What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School?
Take advantage of the opportunities and the time while you’re at the school. Be 100% committed and stay in your booth. Don’t hang around outside, take long breaks, or get in with the wrong crowd. Don’t hang out with people who are there because their parents told them to go, or who don’t want to work. It’s okay to make friends but make friends with people who have the same goals you do.
You’re in a college environment. You don’t ask permission to go to the restroom or take a phone call, it’s up to you to be 100% committed. This isn’t high school. Pass or fail, it’s up to you. You can’t afford to miss a minute in these classes. The instructors are always giving valuable information, stuff you need to know. You’re paying good money to be there. Take every possible moment to learn what the instructors are putting out. It’s valuable, not just to get you through the program successfully, but when you go for a job. They are preparing you for the field. You are only going to be successful if you put the time into 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).