Kris, 35, from Houston, Texas, graduated from the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in March 2020.
Thanks for your time Kris; tell us what you did before coming to welding school?
After high school I tried community college, to major in business. I was doing okay in class, but I decided that college wasn’t for me – it’s not for everybody. After that I just went to work; my vision was simple. If I had a regular 9 to 5 job that paid the bills and put a roof over my head, then I would be okay. But after a while I found myself repeating the same kind of work, grocery stores, shoe stores, and that became difficult for me. I got content, and I didn’t want to be like that anymore.
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Sound like you fell into a rut, a routine?
Yeah, I guess I fell into a rut. I did that for a few years, and then tried college again to break that routine. I actually got a job in the same field, working at a medical company. I wanted to become a bio-med engineer; they fix defibrillators. It went a lot better second time around because I was a little older, more mature. But after seven months or so, classes got harder and I couldn’t keep up…and I dropped out again. I was working at a warehouse; I’d been there for over three years and I realized I was nowhere. I didn’t know what to do, who I wanted to be…I didn’t know who I was – I was just here.
Where did the idea of welding come from?
I saw the Tulsa Welding Commercials every day; that got the gears turning in my mind. Not about enrolling in school, just thinking about welding. I didn’t want to be a welder, I just wondered what welders did, what they made. I wanted to see what they see under the hood! That’s where the idea came from I guess. I’d never done any welding at all; I didn’t know what it meant really. I was just interested.
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How did that initial interest turn into enrolling at Tulsa Welding School?
Last year Alexa, my spouse, and I were on our way back from Mexico. Alexa was asking me lots of questions. I asked what she was doing; turns out she was on the phone with a recruiter from Tulsa! She passed me the phone; I spoke with the lady and said I was working at a warehouse and I didn’t have time; she said that’s fine, but if I changed my mind, to let her know and she’d set me up with a tour.
Maybe a week later I was tired and frustrated after a long day of labor. As I was leaving for my 45 minute drive home, I noticed that the Tulsa Welding School Houston campus was only three minutes away. I could turn left, go home, and continue doing the same stuff I hated the next day, or turn right and drive to the school. I turned right. The recruiter I’d spoken with wasn’t available, but another guy talked with me, and showed me around the school. Afterward he asked me how I felt. I said, “I’m ready to commit!” I did all the paperwork and financial stuff that day, and started night classes a week or two later.
Did you quit work at the warehouse to focus on school?
For the first four months I worked 5am to 3pm, then drove to school, sat in my car and watched TV in the parking lot for a couple of hours, then went to class from 6pm to 11.30pm. I had a 45 minute drive home, got a few hours sleep, before driving 45 minutes back to work. After those four months, they saw how drained I was at work – it was hard labor – so they let me start at 8am, but they switched me to part-time so I lost all my benefits. Eventually I just quit and focused on school.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
I enjoyed going to my booth, being in my own zone. If I had any questions, my instructor would be right there to come into my booth and help. But I liked the loneliness if you will, the peace and quiet.
Did you find the program hard to start with?
Honestly, I had struggles every day. When I first started, I didn’t even know how to hold the welding gun! But it took a lot of burns and scars to understand that when you can just brush off the burns, that’s when you know you have a true passion for welding.
Having dropped out of college a couple of times, how did it feel to finish something?
It was great, the most amazing feeling! It used to be that if I started something, I had to finish it. But somewhere along the way, I lost that. I was pleased to get it back.
Congratulations. So, you now work for Siemens in California. Tell us about the job hunt.
When I graduated I made a beautiful résumé and sent it to every welding company you can think of. None of them got back to me. The COVID-19 pandemic was just hitting, so that didn’t help I’m sure but most of them wanted years of experience, and I can understand that.
I was back working as a cashier in a grocery store thinking to myself, “I can’t believe it, I went to welding school, graduated, and I can’t get a job.” But my career services advisor, Sharon, continued to reach out to me; she sent me three different companies. It felt like Siemens actually grabbed me, rather than the other way around. She told me it would mean moving to Sacramento, California, but I was ready for anything. It’s just my wife and I; no kids, no dog even, so I was ready to go anywhere to get into this field…I said “Let’s go!” They came to the campus to interview candidates; I spoke with the guy who is now my boss for about an hour. We got to know each other real well. They hired me and two other graduates.
When did you start, and what are you doing for Siemens?
I started mid September and I build trains; specifically I’m building passenger coaches using the MIG welding process. I can get certified for TIG, which is the next step.
Well done for sticking with it. What advice for others still looking for their dream job?
Once you graduate, if it doesn’t happen on day one, stay committed to your goal…even if you’re working in a grocery store to pay the bills. Unless you know somebody who knows somebody, it might take a while. For me it didn’t come in the first month, the first three months, it took five or six months. You have to understand that might happen. But just because it’s not happening right now does not mean you’re not a welder anymore. It doesn’t mean you’re no good at welding…it just means the right company hasn’t found you yet and made sure you’re a good fit – like Siemens did with me. I went through about ten different companies until Siemens found me.
That’s great advice. Is your wife out in CA with you?
We had just signed a six-month apartment lease, so she’s going to come out here permanently in January.
Are you happy with the money you’re making?
Absolutely. I’ve calculated that four of my previous jobs combined couldn’t even touch my first check! They also gave me a relocation allowance to move across country!
Where do you see your welding career going?
I would like to get some years, some experience, under my belt here and move up the ladder. My previous jobs were just that, jobs. This is my career, this is my focus. I’m dedicated, motivated, and I can see myself going up, up and up, punching through the roof!
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
When I drop the hood, it’s just me and my consciousness! Other welders will understand – I have one-on-one conversations with myself about anything and everything! There’s also a strong sense of achievement – anyone can work a register, but not many folks can build a train. And the money…well that’s nice too!
What advice would you give to new students for them to be successful at TWS?
Stay committed. If you’re reading this and you are thinking about going to welding school, take that leap. Get into it, learn it, and learn all of it because then you’re universal – I can stick, TIG, MIG, Flux – and put your heart and mind into it. Graduate, stick with it and you will achieve the success you deserve.
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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