Graduate Connections – Meet Lynn Suarez

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Lynn, 49, born in the Philippines, graduated from the Professional Welder with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in June 2020.

Thanks for your time, Lynn. Talk to us about your career before Tulsa Welding School?

I have a business degree, so I’ve had a lot of management positions over the years, a lot of desk jobs. Then I took a left turn a couple of years ago. I was a corrections officer for a little over a year before taking another left turn and coming to welding school.

Why the change from corrections?

It was time for a change. I wanted to get out of that environment. It wasn’t great, so I resigned. For two months, I was home looking for another job in business. I live in Graham, Florida, which is a small town close to Gainesville. I was competing with a lot of college graduates from the University of Florida for those business jobs, which at my age is difficult.

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What brought you to welding school then?

Well, a Tulsa Welding School TV commercial kept coming on. One day the commercial must have come on four or five times. I saw that as a sign, so I said to myself, “Why can’t I do that? I could do that.” So, I signed up and started July 8th, 2019.

Had you done any welding at all before welding school?

No, never. No experience at all! I had no welding skills whatsoever. I was brand-new and didn’t know what to expect or what I was going to have to do.

 

What made you think welding might be something you’d enjoy?

I liked that it was totally out of left field for me, something totally different. I knew if I put my mind to it, I could do it. And I have.

Did you sign up for the pipefitting program at the start, or add it?

I added it later. At the time I did not know whether I wanted to do it, then as I got more interested in the welding, I decided to add it.

Why did you decide to add pipefitting?

It was actually something one of my instructors, Bryan Hatch, said; “If a general contractor is looking for a pipefitter and a welder, and you tell him you can do both, he can pay you more. Because he doesn’t have to hire two people, he will save money, too.” When I heard that, I thought that made sense. Why not? I can do both and get paid more. I also got interested in pipefitting the more I learned about it, so when I got to Phase 8, I signed up.

What did you enjoy most at TWS?

Anytime I had a question, the instructors were there to help me out. If I didn’t understand, all I had to do was ask. And if my instructor was busy with another student, the other instructors were there, too, to answer my questions. All of them have different backgrounds in different kinds of welding. You can learn from each of them. Regardless of who you ask, you will always be able to get an answer.

Another thing I want to mention is that in the midst of the program, I lost my son. He died in a motor vehicle accident in September. I was in Phase Six, and I have to say the school was great. They were very understanding, they even sent flowers to the funeral. They were so nice to me, told me to not worry about a thing at school. The campus president told me that I could come back when I was ready, rephase and not miss a thing. Of course, I was devastated, but they took the worry of missing school away. The instructors, everyone there, were so very helpful. I can’t say a bad thing about any of them. I took two weeks and then went back. It was hard, but if I can get through that, you can get through the program if you put your mind to it.

 

Our condolences on your loss. I can’t imagine.

Where are you working, and how did you get the job?

I work for CT Mechanical in Gainesville, which is the commercial arm of the Comfort Temp Company. I was hired August 17th as a pipefitter and welder. However, the pipefitting/welding contracts that they hired me for haven’t started yet. I’ve been helping the duct people on the construction of a nursing home while we wait. I’ve been learning A/C duct work, plumbing, and A/C repair. Is it where I want to be? No, not really, but I know I need field experience. It is good that they want to keep me busy and give me my hours because I’m on standby for when the pipefitting/welding contract job starts in a few weeks.

I guess you’re also broadening your skills.

Learning other things is fine with me. The more I know makes me a jack of all trades. You’ve got to start somewhere; with no field experience, I consider myself to lucky to have my foot in the door with a company that is willing to work with me. It’s all going to pay off in the end. I’m just being patient as I know I have to start somewhere.

Where would you like your career to take you ultimately?

I’m hoping that five years from now I’ve moved up the ladder, something like foreman or in Quality Control. I am getting older, so I don’t know how long my body will be able to keep doing this, and I have already expressed that to my boss. I do see myself as a manager in this business at some point. Obviously, I need to learn, get some experience under my belt, and hopefully achieve that goal. I’m keeping an open mind. I can take this career anywhere I want to, especially with the pipefitting on top of my welding. There are options out there, it’s just a matter of which way I want to go.

What do you enjoy most about the trade?

Knowing that I can weld and that I have the knowledge to be a pipefitter with the math and everything. Knowing that I can figure out how to put these things together, and then being able to go back and say “Hey, I did that, I put those things together or “These are my welds, that’s my work.” It’s something tangible, something to be proud of.

Did you make some connections at school?

I actually stay in touch with some of the instructors like John George, my pipefitting instructor, and others like Brian, and James. And I do have two girlfriends from school that I stay in touch with.

What advice would you give to students considering welding school?

Keep an open mind and focus on your goal. You have to put the effort in. You have to ask questions. The instructors want to see you succeed. They don’t want to see people fail, but you have to put in the work. You can’t just show up, not take it seriously, and expect to come out as a welding professional. It just isn’t going to happen. Most students are not going to go into a $30-an-hour job immediately. It may happen if you’re really that good, but manage your expectations. You have to start at the bottom like everyone else and work your way up, so be patient and realistic. Can you reach your goal? Yes, but you’re going to have to work hard, eat crow for a little bit and work toward it, but don’t lose sight of that goal. If you really want it, you can get what you want out of this trade school.

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).