Justin, 31, born and raised in Clearwater, Florida, graduated from the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in February 2020.
Thanks for sharing your story, Justin. Had you done any welding in high school?
Nothing. I didn’t even finish high school. I dropped out as a freshman at 17. I was a year behind, and I had failed a year. I got my GED a few years later in 2010.
What kind of jobs did you have?
I worked a lot of minimum wage jobs—restaurant jobs or under-the-table jobs. Nothing that was promising or that you could call a career. I moved to El Paso, Texas, in 2015. That’s when I started getting more into warehouse work, then construction work.
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What brought you to Tulsa Welding School?
An ad caught my attention on Facebook, and I clicked on it. I don’t even know how it popped up in my feed. But I started reading up on the need for welders in different industries. I saw how many opportunities there are. I thought if I could get this trade under my belt, then I would always have a job.
You took a tour of the school?
I did. When I showed up, I was probably overdressed because I wanted to give a good impression. You never know who you are going to meet. People will often go above and beyond for you if they see that you’re trying to present yourself in a way that shows that you want to get somewhere in life.
I knew I was interested in welding from the reading I’d done. But once I took the tour, saw the facility and heard the instructors talking, I knew it was something I would be comfortable with. I took a leap of faith and signed up. I started the application process, and I was in class less than a month later.
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What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
The instructors were very helpful and very attentive. Anytime I needed help, they would find a way to get in my booth and spend one on one time with me. They were really available and flexible. They pushed me to do better. But honestly, the whole opportunity, how the school is set up, was pretty good. You get to go in your booth and do your work. You have a sense of privacy. When you drop your hood, you get to focus only on what they are teaching you. You definitely get out what you put in.
What shift did you do?
I did the night shift. Class was 6:30 pm to 11:30 pm. I had to be at work about 6:30 am. I had no energy or time for anything else, just going to work and going to school. Getting up and going at it every day.
How did you find the program? Ever consider quitting?
There was definitely frustration, especially during 101, my first phase. Then my last phase was frustrating. Everything in between, I pushed through it. I pushed through every phase, but never once did I think about quitting. The last phase is a lot of pressure, with twice as many tests. But during that last phase I thought about 101, the energy that I put in when I first started. When you get to end, it’s easy to get complacent, but that is the total opposite of what you should be doing. They have standards that you need to meet to pass. You don’t want to be skimming through that last phase!
Are you working?
I actually got my first welding job about a month before I graduated. I’m with Milestone Metals in Houston. I’m doing structural welding. They do jobs all around Texas. I’m still learning a lot about the company, but when I first got hired, I spoke with a guy who has been here over 20 years. I’ve met the owner. It’s a solid company who seem pretty good to their people.
How did you get the job?
Through one of my instructors, Marie Tate. She is awesome. I love that lady to death. I could call her right now if I needed anything. I had lost my job, and I was down for about two weeks. It was the only time I didn’t have a job throughout the program. I told Ms. Tate about my situation, and she told me to go Milestone Metals. I filled the application, took a weld test two days later, and they gave me a shot.
Where do you see your career going?
Milestone is a really good company, and I’m getting a lot of field experience. I’m sticking with this job, this career. I’m building my experience, getting my feet wet, stacking some money up. I just want to ride this wave. This is not a normal job; this is a welding job. I’m not thinking about going anywhere, I’m just praying to God that he keeps me where I am now. Experience is something no one can take away from you.
Can you progress at Milestone?
I think so, yes. I like it here. I can become a foreman, or even a welding supervisor one day. A week ago, I was looking at opportunities in the industry because we get emails from school about ways to further yourself. I was just browsing, looking at welding inspectors, welding supervisors—just looking at different certifications that I could go back to school for. You’ve got to go at it while you have the energy.
Do you have ambitions to travel, work the pipeline like a lot of welders??
This company has out-of-town work and local work. I’m actually in a hotel in Austin right now. I’m away from my family for a week, but I’ll get home at the weekend. I have a three-year-old son, and I’m engaged. At first, I was just looking for a job with a check, but now I’m getting a check and a per diem.
Were you happy with your first welding paycheck?
The first check was decent. I’m just happy to have a welding job. I didn’t even care about the hourly rate or the hours. I was just happy to have a job welding. Getting your first welding job is peoples’ biggest concern, so getting my feet wet was most important to me.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
The resilience that I had to have to get to this point. I mean, I can learn anything, but I didn’t know I could do this. This is my first time furthering my education since I dropped out of high school. I didn’t do anything for years. I don’t know what held me back, whether I was just distracted or what, but when I finally made my mind up, even though I had challenges, I just buckled down and got through it. I didn’t let anyone distract me from learning this trade. The sense of security that I have now, the sense of knowing that I should not be afraid to challenge myself and try new things. Mistakes are there to make you better. I made a lot of mistakes learning this trade, but I learned from them and got better.
Did you make some lasting connections at TWS?
I made a handful of friends I’ll stay in touch with. There’s a friend who got hired on at the same company, We’ve worked shoulder to shoulder at some locations.
What advice would you give to students for them to be successful at TWS?
You’ve got to finish what you start. If you make the decision to start the program, finish it. Achieving anything worthwhile is not going to be easy, but you can do it. Don’t let anyone distract you.
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).
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