Kilie, 23, from Glenpool, Oklahoma, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in March 2022.
Thanks for your time, Kilie; what did you do before deciding to enroll at TWS?
I’d saved up some money, so after high school I took a two-month trip to Canada to celebrate graduating. When I got back, I did fast food jobs and I worked at a call center for a while – I’m never doing that again! Then I did some interior design work; I was working with fabric, helping people pick material and colors for their rooms. I did that for almost two years before I decided to go to welding school.
So, how did you go from soft fabrics to melting metal?
Even though the fabric job was interesting, I was getting tired of it. I just couldn’t see myself doing it as a career. I needed to find something that would last me a lifetime. Because I live in Oklahoma, I kept seeing Tulsa Welding School advertisements. So, because of that and because one of my uncles is a welding inspector and another has dabbled in welding, I decided to look into it. Throughout high school I did a lot of art, so I liked the fact that welding is kind of artistic. At first, I was thinking that maybe I could make an art career out of welding, but now I’ve realized I just like playing with fire!
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You mentioned art in high school. Did you do any welding before TWS?
No, the art I did wasn’t related to welding at all. I did regular art classes in high school. When we could choose vo-tech classes, I wish I’d done welding. That would’ve better prepared me. But I chose interior and visual graphic design. I loved doing the art aspect of that, but not the business side of it. I decided it wasn’t for me. I went to Tulsa with no real idea of what I was getting into – I just knew it would be fun!
What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?
I really enjoyed my classmates, honestly. When I first started, there was only me and one other girl in my class. So, at first, I was shy; I didn’t know who to talk to. All the guys were just automatically talking to each other, so I was like, “Do I just go up and talk to them?” It was difficult. I’d never been in that type of environment before, so I didn’t know how to interact with people really.
How did you overcome that?
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Just be yourself, the guys don’t care. Everybody’s there to learn and graduate. It was really nice to have classmates who just accepted me for who I was. They helped me because I’d get really frustrated. Everybody passed me at first because I knew nothing, and most of them had some welding experience. So, they’re all flying past me, and I started wondering, “Am I even going to graduate with them?” I’d get all nervous, but they’d tell me it’s okay, they’d show me things, and that really helped.
So, you were one of two girls in your class, were there many other female students on campus?
There really weren’t a whole lot of girls in the classes before me. But, when I got closer to graduating, there were more girls behind me. It was nice to see more girls were enrolling in welding school.
How did you find the instructors? Did you get what you needed from them?
I’m going to say this, so everybody knows, ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions because they’re not going to spoon-feed you. The instructor will show the class a demo of what you’re supposed to be doing, then you go and try it. But if you don’t understand it, or you need another demo, don’t be afraid to ask. I had to. For one, there were too many people watching for me to actually see what was going on, and two, I just ask a lot of questions!
Did you feel bad about putting your hand up?
I was nervous at first because I thought they were going to find me annoying, but then I was like, “I don’t care. I need to learn.” I just had to get over that myself. The instructors are there to help you, but you have to be willing to ask for help. They’re not always going to see that you’re struggling. If you just keep giving up, you’re going to look like you don’t care, so why would they put in the effort to help you; they’re going to focus on this kid over here who is engaged, asking questions, and actually wants to be here.
The days where you got frustrated, did you consider quitting?
I don’t like quitting once I’ve started something. I will persevere. Quitting was never really an option; I was going to graduate no matter what. But it was frustrating not being able to understand it. But you’re not going to understand it at first. This job, this career, requires patience. If you don’t have patience, you need to get some. You’re not going to get everything right on the first try. It takes patience and practice.
I also need to say it’s a hot, physically demanding job. If you don’t like heat, you’ve got to acclimate yourself to deal with being in a hot environment. Sometimes, you’ve got to turn into an acrobat too, you’ve got to get creative to try to get into some of the positions to weld!
Where are you working?
I work for Limco-Airepair [TAT-Limco] here in Tulsa; I started at the end of May. They started an apprentice program recently, which is really nice. That helps you settle in, like you have a job while you’re learning how to weld the parts that they’re going to be repairing.
Getting paid to learn basically! How did you get the job?
I went to see Jenna in Career Services to see if she knew of any TIG welding jobs because, of all of the welding processes we learned, TIG was the one I enjoyed the most. Limco had just reach out to Jenna looking for welders to work on aluminum and stainless steel. I really wanted to do that, so I went in, took the weld test. They said they saw a lot of potential in me, so they put me onto the apprentice program.
You’ve been there two months; how long is the apprentice program?
It’s at your own pace. However long you take to learn is how long it’s going to take you to start in a welding position. It’s however much practice you’re willing to put in to learn their stuff. I’ll be testing out soon.
As an apprentice, are you happy with the pay you’ve started on?
Yeah! Actually, even just being at an apprenticeship level is paying more than any other job I’ve ever had! They have different tiers of welding, so you start out at Welder One, Tier One. You start with easy, basic stuff while you learn and then you go from there; the pay goes up from there too.
That’s awesome. It looks like a big company, with lots of opportunities.
If you’re showing progress and that you’re ready to move up, then you can keep moving and moving every six months or so. There are different welding areas too; you don’t have to stick with the one thing. There’s Repairs, which is what I’m learning now, there’s Military, and then there’s building completely new parts.
It sounds like you are really excited by it.
I really enjoy it. It a very welcoming environment here, very friendly and encouraging.
So, what’s your career plan from here?
I could see myself sticking here for a while. There’s a lot of room to grow here. They also have inspecting positions. If I decide I want to go that route in a few years, I can look into joining that side of the company.
What do you enjoy most about welding?
I just think it’s cool that you can manipulate metal and make something, craft something, new with it. All you have is your torch and a piece of rod, and you’re able to melt metals together and make functioning parts. I just think it’s really interesting that you’re able to do that.
What advice do you have for new students to be successful at TWS?
I would say the biggest piece of advice is just “be patient”. If you don’t understand something, ask the question, or ask for another demo. The instructors are there to help you. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t understand. Do that, put in the time and effort and it will be rewarding. If you don’t put any time or any effort into it, if you’re just at school to do the bare minimum, you’re not going to get much out of 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).