Kalynn, 27, from Tulsa, OK, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in December 2019.
Thanks for your time, Kalynn. Tell us what you did before coming to welding school.
After high school, I worked on a trash truck in Broken Arrow for a few months. Then I worked putting together HVAC air exchangers for two and half years. They had a bunch of welders there. I didn’t know much about welding, but it interested me because I knew the welders made more money than me! After that, I bounced around doing pretty much anything the temp services offered me. Then I landed a job at Pepsi, picking orders and loading trucks.
What made you think of going to welding school last year?
Actually, my aunt used to work in Admissions at Tulsa Welding School. She gave me the idea. I took a tour, checked out the campus, and met some people. I saw my aunt while I was there, and she introduced me to a student who was on his way to graduating. I watched him weld a little bit, and he got me even more interested. I was ready to sign up.
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Had you done any welding before, in high school maybe?
No, never. I learned everything I know at Tulsa Welding School.
Was it seeing the guys welding air exchangers that got you interested?
No, I was only interested in the money they were making. I knew they made more than me! What really got me interested was walking around the shop on the school tour, seeing what the guys were doing.
Had you ever thought about going to trade school?
I thought about truck driving school, but I don’t like driving in the rain or at night, so I knew that wouldn’t be a good fit! I was really just focused on trying to find a good, decent-paying job. I’d never seriously thought about going back to school until Tulsa.
What made the idea of welding different?
I’d had a lot of jobs where there was only so far I could go. I knew that as a welder I could start a career, maybe get my own rig. There are a lot of opportunities in welding. I didn’t want to be an assistant, an operator, or something like that forever. I knew I could also make more money than the managers at my other jobs made. If I were still at Pepsi, what would I be besides a supervisor or a lead? There were guys who had been doing the same thing for 10 years at places I’ve worked. I make more than them after welding for just six weeks.
What was your favorite part of your time at Tulsa Welding School?
Seeing what I could do. You surprise yourself when you get there. It felt good, something to be proud of.
Having never welded before, was it hard to start with?
No, that’s what’s crazy! They thought I had welded before. It came so naturally to me; I was just good at it. I had a 4.0 GPA pretty much all the way through the program. My first phase teacher, David Wilkins, was real helpful too. He would come in the booth. If he had to, he would hold my hand while I held the rod. I don’t think anyone in my class in that first phase got discouraged.
Talk to us about employment. Did you work with Career Services to get your job?
I did. I got passed up on a lot of applications. I guess I got turned down because I had school experience, but no experience in the field. Every time they had a job fair at the school, I’d go back. Johnny in Career Services sent me jobs and reached out all the time. They did as much as they could for me; it worked out because I have a great job now!
Congratulations! Tell us about it.
I’m at Arcosa Wind Towers. It’s going great. I plan to stay as long as they allow me to. They’ve already offered me another position! There are guys there that have been in the field 10 or 20 years, but they can’t TIG weld. Tulsa graduates can do all types of welding: TIG, MIG, Flux Core. A lot of guys in the field can’t hand weld, they can only use the sub-arc machine. The TWS grads they hired can weld better than most of the people there in my opinion.
Tell us about the recruitment process. Did Arcosa come to the school?
Yes, they came to the school; there was a group of about 30 of us interested. They gave a presentation, told us what they were looking for. Afterwards we trained at the school for five nights for their weld test, but when the Arcosa guy arrived, he gave us a totally different test! It was actually an easier test than we had been practicing for. I don’t know if the school did that on purpose just to push us beyond, so that we would know we would excel, but it worked. They probably hired about 20 of us; I see a lot of guys from Tulsa Welding School there.
It took six months to get a job with COVID-19 going on. Did you keep welding?
I did. I had to keep working temp jobs to keep money coming in, as I have three kids, but I went back into school to practice and brush up for tests. That’s a great benefit of going to the school. You can go back anytime. If I wanted, I could go back in today; they would find me a booth and let me go.
Are you happy with the money you’re making?
Yeah, I’m very happy with the money. It’s more than I ever made before without working 70 hours. I’m able to buy things for the kids that I couldn’t before. My normal schedule is 10 hours, Monday through Friday. If we don’t get what we need done, we could be there for 12, maybe 12½ hours. I work the night shift, which is 6 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., sometimes 6:30 a.m. It’s a minimum of 50 hours a week; over 40 hours is time and a half.
Where do you see your career going from here?
I’m thinking about doing a few years at Arcosa and then maybe going back and trying to become an instructor at Tulsa Welding School one day.
The idea of teaching appeals to you?
Yeah, I helped a lot of other guys who were struggling, and not just in my class. I would step in their booth and look. It was cool to be able to help, and people seemed to appreciate it.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
The fact that I can do something that most people can’t do. It’s not something to brag about, but it’s something to be proud of. I also have something to look forward to with this career. I can start my own business welding. If I had the money, I could buy my own rig and go on my own. There’s so much opportunity. I can make barbecue grills and sell them; I can do anything.
Did you make some lasting connection at school?
I met a lot of guys; we were pretty close at school. We’d go eat breakfast together. But a lot of the guys went home to Colorado, Kansas, and Texas after school. There’s one guy who I still hang out with here. I also met lot of guys when I went back for the Arcosa training; I still see them because we work together. You’ll meet a lot of people, it’s a great experience.
What advice do you have for new students who want to be successful at TWS?
It’s a great opportunity, so take advantage of it. Try not to get frustrated or irritated, and if you do, take a break or ask for help. Your time at the school is what you make of it. It worked for me; make the most of it. Going to welding school was great for me and a lot of people I know.
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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