Josh, from Virginia, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in April 2018.
Thanks for your time, Josh. What did you do before Tulsa Welding School?
I graduated high school in 2016 and spent a year working at a local machine shop. After about 10 months of sad working conditions and no recognition as a shop hand, I knew I needed to find a better job or do something else. Two weeks before I left, I got accepted to Tulsa Welding School.
Were you doing any welding in the shop?
I wasn’t, but I was around welding maybe 50% of the time for the first six months. I mostly did prep work for them—cleaning the metal, making sure it was the right size, then getting it to the welder.
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Sounds like a welder’s helper job?
I guess you could say that, yeah. I did the stuff expected of a shop hand: general cleaning up, sweeping floors, that kind of stuff. There’s nothing wrong with being a welder’s helper. It’s a great starting point. But when I took the job, they told me they’d give me a weld test at 90 days. That never happened.
Where did your interest in welding start?
It’s a funny story. Around the end of my sophomore year in high school, I decided I didn’t want to do band anymore. It just wasn’t fun. So I started looking at other extracurricular activities. All the things I really wanted to do required a C or higher in English. I had a D at the time. But welding didn’t have an English requirement, so the next year, my junior year, I started welding. I went back my senior year because I enjoyed it so much. I left high school with two years of experience, my entry-level AWS [American Welding Society] card, an OSHA 10 card and a desire to get into the profession.
What did you enjoy most at Tulsa Welding School?
I have say the challenge of how quick the course is and the artistic drive that I was given by the instructors every now and then.
What do you mean by artistic drive?
They’d say, “That looks great, but let’s see if you can make it look a bit better.” I took that as a challenge. I’m an artistic welder; I like making things look pretty. I like making the little things that you’ll see every now and then at the thrift store.
You had prior welding experience but some students had none. How did the instructors manage that?
At the start of every phase, you talk to the instructor about your progress, then you talk with them at the beginning of every day. If you have a problem, you go to the instructor. They patrol the booths all the time. If you need help, they give it. If you don’t, they say good job, keep it up, and move on to the next person. They are good at making sure that everyone who doesn’t need help gets the same amount of attention, but the people who do need help get as much as they can. It’s really personal attention.
You graduated six months ago. Where are you working?
I started working for Newport News Shipbuilding, a Huntington Ingalls company, three weeks ago.
So it took six months to land the job you wanted?
You have to be persistent. There were definitely other places I could have applied for welding jobs, but I knew I would have been miserable. In fact, the machine shop where I worked before welding school was looking for welders when I got back to Virginia.
So where did you go after graduation?
I moved to Phoenix, AZ. I had a potential job lined up and was offered free housing by relatives. After a couple of months, it became clear the opportunity wasn’t working out, so I made my way back to Virginia. I got a job bussing tables at a fancy restaurant while sending out welding applications, then I spent two months as a plumber’s assistant. A month into the plumbing job, I started to hear back from the shipyard. Within another month, I was in for orientation, and I’ll be in training until early spring.
What is the training?
It’s a 16-week course. They are teaching us how to do things their way. They make sure they like what we do, then decide what they’re going to do with us.
Is what you learned in welding school an advantage in the training?
It definitely makes going through everything a bit easier. Knowing right off the bat this is how I need to position my body or this is how I need to hold the rod. So far, all that has been very helpful.
Did you get your first paycheck yet?
Yes. With the night shift, I am making a little over $650 a week. I can honestly say I am not hurting for money, and that’s while I’m in training. Once we’re in the yard, I believe we’re guaranteed a small pay raise every six months. My most recent paycheck was the largest income of money I have ever received in one point in time. It was definitely a happy surprise.
What’s your career plan from here Josh?
I have two paths of potential. The first is five years from now I’m saying, “I love this job”. At that point, I will be working toward master shipbuilder ranking at 40 years. The second option is that after four or five years, I start applying to other places to see if I can do better. With five years of shipyard experience behind me, I’d hazard a guess to say I’d be getting interview requests within a week.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
My favorite thing about welding is that I can go to a scrap yard, spend $50 on scrap metal, then spend a day or two welding and come out with some $200- or $300-pieces that I could sell. I’m very much an artistic welder; I love making things. To be able make something with hot metal and fire is kind of what made me continue to weld at school. I could go home and say, “I made something today.” My dream home will have a small welding and forging shop where I could work on the weekends—just go and make stuff!
What advice would you give to people considering Tulsa Welding School?
Show up early and when you can, leave late. If the instructor says the same thing more than twice, write it down because it’s important.
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).