Graduate Connections – Meet Nik Baker

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Nik, 19, was born in Texas, but as a self-described military brat, he grew up all over including a few years on a base near Stuttgart, Germany. Nik graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in late March 2021.

Thanks for your time, Nik. Did you come to welding school straight out of high school?

Pretty much. I graduated high school in May 2020, and then started at Tulsa Welding School in mid-August.

What made you decide to go to welding school?

I had a rough senior year. I wasn’t doing much, just kind of coasting, so my mom pressured me a little bit to figure something out. I put some information into the Tulsa website and got a call back from them. A few months later I was up there enrolled in the welding program.

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Had you done any welding? Where did the idea come from?

I did some welding when I lived in Colorado Springs in my sophomore and junior year of high school. I just fell in love with being able to design and build something from scratch. I really enjoyed the process.

Are there any welders in the family? Was it something you knew?

One of my uncles was an aerospace welder for Lockheed Martin; he made parts for military jets. My grandad’s brother owns a welding company, so I was exposed to welding a little growing up through those guys, but not too much. I wasn’t sure it would be my career.

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Did you think about attending any other trade schools or colleges?

Yes, I looked into college to be an engineer. Then I looked at a couple of other trade schools for welding, but I landed at Tulsa Welding School because it’s the number one welding school in the country. To be honest, the admissions guy sold it pretty well on the phone! I thought if it’s the best school, I should go there. I was living with my mom in Texas my senior year, so I moved up to Tulsa from Texas.

What did you enjoy most during your time at Tulsa Welding School?

Honestly, the people I met through the program, especially my roommates. Because of COVID, there wasn’t much happening in Tulsa at the time, so my three roommates and I had to improvise a little bit. The instructors were pretty good overall. Most of them seemed to really enjoy what they do. I had a positive interaction with my instructors.

What shift did you do at Tulsa Welding School?

I started off on the afternoon program, but within about three weeks I switched over to night classes. I had to get a job to pay bills. Career services helped me find work. I worked at a Macys distribution center first. They then hooked me up with a job at a Line-X in town. I stayed there the remainder of my time. I really enjoyed working there.

You just graduated a month ago, where are you working now?

Career Services helped me find a job with Tenneco in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I’m welding aftermarket car parts. I moved up to Virginia and started here on April 12, about two weeks after graduation.

Just a couple of weeks into the job, are you enjoying it?

It’s good. Working third shift (10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.) has been an adjustment. I had to completely flip my schedule, but other than that, I’m enjoying what I’m doing so far. I work Sunday through Thursday. I chose this shift, so I have my Friday and Saturday nights free. My weekend starts Friday morning at 6:30 a.m.!

Are you happy with the money you’re making?

This is the highest-paying job I’ve ever had! I’m making almost $21 an hour, including a shift differential. They got lots of overtime available at this place, so once I finish the training program in a couple of weeks, I’ll be making time and a half and double time on Sundays if I work. It’s a 40-hour minimum. Once I get certified, I can choose to do 10-hour days, and then I’ll work a lot of weekends. When I start getting some $31/$42 hours in my paycheck, it’ll look pretty good!

What’s your career plan from here?

Eventually I’d like to open my own business, but I see myself here for at least a year or more. This company offers health insurance, a 401k, they promote from within—the whole nine yards, all the good adult stuff you want! I have to say the school helped me line up a pretty good job. But in time, I’d like to do some TIG welding, or move back home and open my own business.

What kind of business do you have in mind?

If I move back home, my mom lives in a pretty small town about 70 miles west of Fort Worth. All these rich folks are moving to the country from Fort Worth, buying a bunch of land and building these huge sheet metal houses. So I might try my hand at structural welding.

Do you have any desire to do traveling welding like pipeline or plant work?

Not at all. Growing up we moved around a whole lot, so I kind of want to be in one place for a little while.

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

Honestly, just being able to step back and look at what I’ve made. I’m a really hands-on kind of guy. I enjoyed welding in high school, but I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it as a career. I really don’t know what it is about welding; I just really love the process. I enjoy laying a bead down and seeing the end product.

You mentioned TIG welding a couple of times. What is it you like about TIG welding?

It’s a really clean process and you can make some pretty-looking beads with it if you put the practice in. Depending on what metal you’re working on, you can get some really colorful beads, too. I know they do some TIG here, but I don’t know what they use it for. I think if I wanted to get into TIG welding, I’d move to another company.

Did you make some friends at Tulsa, people you’ll stay in touch with?

Yes, the people I hung out with at Tulsa have our own group chat. We talk here and there. I’ve got plans with my roommates to meet up in a year or so. One of them rides motorcycles, so we’ve got plans to meet up and go riding.

That’s awesome. Are those guys working?

Two of my roommates are just about to graduate Tulsa Welding School now. The guy I shared a room with is working. e’s MIG welding like me. I’ve got a buddy named Austin who is TIG welding in Atlanta. My other buddy Dylan t working right now, but that’s because he graduated high school early. That means he graduated welding school at 17, so there’s not much he can do until he turns 18.

What advice do you have for new students…for them to be successful at TWS?

Honestly, just stay in your booth and weld as much as you can. You only get five hours a day and sometimes that is really not enough. You’ve got to take advantage of any extra time you can. Even if it’s not your class time, the instructors will let you use a booth if they’ve got one open. I definitely didn’t stay in my booth and weld as much as I should have. Just take advantage of the opportunity, especially if you are struggling. Weld as much as you can. Ask as many questions as you can. I asked questions all the time. It’s all paid for, no matter how long you stay, so get your money’s worth. You’re only there for seven months [for the Professional Welder program] and there’s a lot to learn, so make the most 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).