Luke, 20, from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, graduated from the ten-month Professional Welder with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in mid May 2022.
Thanks for your time, Luke. What did you do after high school before welding school?
I graduated high school early because of Coronavirus. I worked for about six months and then decided it was either college or something else for me, I was bored. I had every job you could think of; a trash man, a server, I’ve done roofing, demolition, everything. Just nothing for very long. I have the odd ability to walk into an interview and get just about any job, but I don’t have the ability to understand what I want, or what I’m signing up for immediately!
So, what made you think about welding?
In high school I’d taken a machining and a welding course for a year, but machining’s scary because it’s very loud. So, I was like,” Hey…fire!” I looked up welding schools and decided on Tulsa Welding in Florida.
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Did you consider college, or did you know you would do something more hands-on?
I always have the ambition to learn, but I have to use what I’m learning. I can’t just read a book, memorize it, and not do anything with it. My memory doesn’t work like that. If I’m going to learn, I want it to be useful immediately. Hands-on work is better for me. I go into class, the instructor picks up a wrench, I pick up a wrench, now I know how to use a wrench. Honestly, in 10 years I’ll probably go to junior college, somewhere I can pay fully myself for business. That way I can own a place instead of working for a place.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?
Oh, that’s easy. I made a 35-pound war hammer, and it’s my baby. I’ve never found a human yet that has not been impressed with it. I went into Tulsa Welding School, they showed me the ropes and the first thing I had to do was go build a big toy. So, anytime I was just in the booth, and I needed to make my day slightly more interesting or fun, working on that was my favorite part. It looks like Thor’s Hammer. I built it for pipefitting because I went into the Pipefitting class one day and noticed their hammers were way to small!
I hear you’re moving home soon. Do you have work lined up yet?
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Yes, I’m moving back home tomorrow. I’ll stay there for about three months. I have a welding interview lined up when I get there. After summer’s over, I have an opportunity to start with Helfrich Brothers Boiler Works. They’re based in Massachusetts, but it’s a traveling job. Honestly, I don’t even know where I’d be based. I don’t think you ever really go back to home base unless you’re working in the facility.
How did the opportunity with Helfrich come about?
Helfrich came to Tulsa Welding School and did welding interviews. They really liked the energy I brought to the table, and I seemed put together enough for them to offer me a job.
So, they offered the job, but you haven’t started yet?
They offered me the job, but I wanted to finish the Pipefitting course first. It’d be a waste of money not to. But they don’t work during the summer, so my schedule—graduating in May—was poor timing for that.
But you’re confident about starting in September?
I may just be ignorant because I’m a kid and an optimist, but yeah. I had somebody ask, “Would you like the job?” and I replied with “Yes.” I’d like to believe that I have a spot held. Worst case scenario, I just have to open my eyes a little wider and go to the next place. As a welder, it’s not hard to find work.
What kind of work will you be doing?
It’s shutdown work. So, basically when they get a job, they send out notification that they need you in this place at this time on this date. Then I pack up and run. They have all the equipment; they pay for housing, they pay a per diem, they pay for gas. But what you’re giving them for all these nice things is seven days a week, 12-hour days, and hard ass work. This is a big boy job, something I can put on my résumé, and have it mean something.
Sounds like you’re looking forward to it.
I am. If I can get at least a year there on my résumé, to add a little more meat to the bone, then I can hopscotch to other places. Because without experience you’re nothing. In my opinion, the best thing to do to move up the ladder is not to stay in one company for a long time. Stay for about three years, then go to the next company. Once you have experience, you can ask for more. But if you start at a lower pay, working your way up the ladder is a lot slower than going somewhere else and saying, “Hey, this is what I have to offer. If you don’t want it, don’t value it, I’ll sell it to the next guy.”
Are you excited by the financial potential of your new career?
I am really excited to be financially secure and able to not worry about things like rent or to eat three times a day. That’d be crazy! But I’m also not trying to make money my hyperfocus. The money will come, but happiness has to be built. Does that sound wise?
Sure, it does! What’s your career plan from here?
I know for a fact that some stuff can’t be predicted. I’m trying to set milestones, but not hard, cold goals. My focus now is the next two years, hopefully with Helfrich.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
Honestly, getting dirty. I did so many menial labor jobs; you have to dress in a uniform, stay clean and tidy. But in a shop, you get elbow deep in grease and keep going. I feel like more work gets done that way. It’s freedom, a release. It’s messy. It’s not simple, it’s complicated, wild, and unpredictable. I enjoy that!
Did you make some connections at Tulsa? People you will stay in touch with.
I’m in group chats with graduates just talking about our new careers.
What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School?
Here’s a list of things that you should get for your first day: a Tiger Paw wrist support, a wire wheel, an extra grinder (a cheap one), and a notebook. As far as advice for new students, immediately acknowledge that these instructors are not like your high school teachers. This is not somewhere where you go into class, say, “Hello, Mr. Blank,” then don’t talk, don’t raise your hand, don’t be a problem. No, these teachers are welders. Play with them, mess with them, poke them. Don’t be shy. I hated seeing people in their booth who didn’t want to tell the instructor they were struggling because they thought the teacher would think them a bad welder. That’s just wasting your money. If you don’t know what you’re doing, ask.
Don’t come in with pride. This isn’t high school. Nobody’s cool. Being cool has never mattered, but it really doesn’t matter at TWS. Just get really good at what you’re here to do. Talk to as many people as you can. Never let anybody know how good of a welder you are, except the instructors, because they’ll be in your booth every single day asking for help! And don’t put your stuff down. Don’t leave anything anywhere, stuff disappears. Don’t do that! I lost three pairs of gloves. Don’t be that stupid. Write your name on everything!
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).