Na’Shon, 47, from Augusta, Georgia, graduated from the seven-month Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in January 2022.
Thanks for your time, Na’Shon. Tell us about your journey to Tulsa Welding School in your 40s.
I had a completely different career. I was a specialty contractor installing sheetrock, carpet, hardwood floors, painting, things of that nature. Whatever I did, I worked hard, I mean really, really hard. But I can’t keep working that hard, I mean physically hard labor.
So, what made you think about welding?
After I decided to get out of contracting a few years ago, I got a job at Bridgestone. I was fire watching for welders who were putting in a boiler unit. And as a fire watcher you don’t do anything other than watch the welders work to make sure a fire doesn’t break out! I did that for two years, talking with them, learning more about the job. They’d tell me these lovely numbers ($$$) that they’re making. To me, what they were doing looked like nothing. Now, it’s something, don’t get me wrong, it’s very much something, but I mean physically, it’s nothing compared to what I’d been going through. I just decided I really wanted to do it. I made up my mind, got in touch with someone at the school, and then the pandemic hit. Once things started back up where we could do in-person stuff, they called me back and I was ready.
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Had you ever done any welding yourself before TWS?
No, I was as green as green could be! I’m still green now, but it’s exciting. I’m lovin’ this job, this career!
What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?
The instructors were awesome. They were very patient with us. They showed no frustration with our ugly welds or when we messed up. Their patience was out of this world. I also really enjoyed all the hands-on time; literally from day one, you’re welding. That was awesome. There is some classroom time, but you spend much more time in the booth. I loved every minute of it: the people, the place, I just love learning. I was trying to set an example for my kids, show them that no matter how old you are, if you have passion and drive, you can do anything. We just had graduation on Saturday. I didn’t know I graduated with Honors!
Congratulations! Did you have moments on the program where you thought, “What have I done?”
No, not at all. It didn’t come easy to me, but my experience made it easier. Every day was a learning experience for me, and it still is. I’m learning every day and I’m eating it up!
So where are you working and how did you get the job?
I’m working for W International in Charleston, South Carolina. A gentleman called Gene came to TWS representing W, talking about their process. I liked what he talked about in terms of recognizing that we were students, soon-to-be graduates, with limited experience. He let us know that they would train us further in what they wanted. As someone with no experience, that’s what I needed. I didn’t want to join a company that was just going to throw me under the hood, and then tell me to kick rocks if or when I failed. It’s hard to leave school with no prior experience and do what a company expects me to do at a proficient level, when I don’t really know what I’m doing. I have the foundation from the school, but I’m still green. They also offered a good package with good incentives.
When did you start with W International?
I finished school January 14th, but I took a little break. I started working with them March 21st. That was by choice. They gave me an offer letter and I put my own dates in. I could have started the Monday after school, but I needed a moment. I needed to go home to Georgia and be around my wife, my family for a while. I was lonely away from them in Florida; I was either at school or at the hotel for seven months. It was a fantastic feeling to be able to take that time off, knowing I had a great job to go to.
You’ve been there about five weeks. What are you doing? How is it going?
We build submarine parts and aircraft carrier parts. It’s really exciting for me to think about where these parts are going. I finished WWT last week; that’s their Naval welding training for the electric boat side – the submarines. I made it to the floor this past Monday. I’m no longer a welding trainee, I’m a Welder 1. But they’ve decided they want to put me on the Newport News side, which is aircraft carriers. So, I need to do another certification class, which will hopefully start next week. That should be a week and then I’ll be fully certified to weld.
Are you happy with the money you’ve started on?
Oh, yes. I know I’m starting at the bottom. I accept that I’ve got to do the grunt work, but still the pay is great at the bottom. You have to accept that you’re going to be grinding and you’re going to be sweeping to start. This week I’ve been sweeping. I’m not mad with the pay, I know it’s only going to go up. It’s all excellent in my book.
What’s the schedule like?
Pretty good! I work first shift, 6:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. We get a three-day weekend, and that made it even sweeter!
That is sweet! What’s your career plan from here?
Right now, I’ve got “W” all over my forehead! I’d like to stay with them for my 20 years. I’d like to become a CWI [Certified Welding Inspector] one day, and I’d like to do that with W. I know some of the younger guys say they’ll be here a few years and then look for what’s next, but I’m on the down slope of my career. I can stick right here and be very happy. I just need my wife to get down here!
So, your wife is still in Georgia?
Yes, she’s waiting for her job to change over to work from home, then she can move down here. I don’t like being alone, so I told her she needs to get on down here! I have nine kids, and two granddaughters! Four of my kids graduated college, two with double majors, and one who is going back now to finish her double major. My youngest two are 16 and 15.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
I always knew what a welder was, even though I had no real interest. I always knew they made some good money. But now, just the fact that I can say, “I’m a welder, I work on submarine and aircraft carrier parts,” that really tickles my fancy! When I tell people that, they look surprised. They might try to throw a little something at me, to test me, and I can throw it right back at them. They look at me and think, “What’s this guy doing welding?” The answer: The same thing the next welder is doing, I’m getting paid!
Did you make some connections at Tulsa? People you will stay in touch with.
Yeah, I made some contacts. In fact, one of my school mates will be here this weekend to start work on Monday. I’ve also met some great co-workers since I’ve been here at W.
What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School?
To be successful at Tulsa Welding School, you’ve just got to want it. That’s the main thing. If you want it, you can have it. But you’ve got to really want it and work for it. You’re going to get injured, you’re going to get some burns, some boo-boos. You’re going to learn how to use these tools, and you’ll learn what not to do! You’re going to learn to unplug them if you’re moving around! It’s a learning process, all of it. Just go in there wanting to learn, wanting to do it, and you can be successful.
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).