Sam, 18, from Stuart, Florida, graduated from the seven-month Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in January 2023.
Thanks for sharing your story, Sam. Did you come to Tulsa Welding School straight out of high school?
Yes, I enrolled not even a month after I graduated high school.
So, where did the idea of welding school come from?
I always knew I wanted to do a trade job of some sort. I had a handful of experience with welding, nothing too major, but enough to know that I was interested in it. I knew I definitely wanted to go to trade school, and Tulsa Welding School seemed like a great option.
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Where did you get your handful of experience?
We did a little bit of welding in our Agriculture class, but I did most of my welding outside of school.
You mentioned that you wanted a trade. Why welding instead of a plumber or any other trade?
I like building and constructing stuff, and welding always just seemed very interesting to me, either seeing people do it or when I’ve done it. It just caught my eye and I naturally gravitated towards it.
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Did you research welding careers?
After high school, I did do some research. I wanted to find out more about welding, the basics, where I could go to learn. I researched other processes like TIG welding. I was very interested in that. I just wanted to be able to learn everything together, so I decided trade school would be the best place to go for that.
How was moving away from home at 18?
You know, everyone gets a little nervous about moving and stuff like that, but I actually had some family that lived in Jacksonville, so I was kind of familiar with the area. I’d also had several experiences where I’ve been from away from home before, whether at summer camps or just traveling, so I was used to it.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?
I appreciated the wealth of knowledge that each instructor provided, and their different backgrounds. It was also cool to meet all sorts of new people from all over the country. Even though some of them might have had a little more experience with welding than me, everyone was on the same page and willing to learn. It was just a great experience overall.
Coming to welding school weeks after high school, how did you find being in adult education?
I was quite used to it. there was no real adjustment for me. Growing up, I was fishing a lot around adults, and I always had hands-on jobs, so I was used to being around the adult scene and acting like an adult. I was used to being treated as an adult and not a kid. So, it was good, I was definitely used to it.
Did you have frustrations during the program?
Of course, there were some days and some things that didn’t come to me right away. Sometimes I had to stay later and work hard on something, but eventually I would get to the end of it. It’s just all about the work that you put in. Some things will come naturally, but other things you do have to work hard towards.
What was your secret to overcoming those frustrations? Just persistence?
Yes and no. There were some days where I’d had enough and needed to go home, to get away from it. But there were a lot of days that I was like, you know what, how am I going to get better? I just need to practice, so I’d stay until close at 11:30 p.m. To me, it’s just all about how much you want to put into it.
What class did you do? Did you have a job at school?
I did the afternoon class, and yes, I worked at UPS in the morning and went straight to school from there.
Tell us where you are working.
I finished welding school on a Friday and moved to South Carolina that weekend. I started working at W International on the Monday. We build parts for submarines and aircraft carriers, contracted for the Navy.
That sounds awesome. How did you get the job?
W International actually came to the campus and talked to students who were a phase or two out from graduating. They told us about the company and gave us their spiel. They played a slideshow, talked about the job and then ultimately the decision was up to us. As long as we graduated, passed all our bend outs, then we could go join them if we wanted.
No weld testing?
There was no weld test required because we were fresh out of Tulsa Welding School. That helped their recruitment of us because the school does hold us to the highest standards. Compared to other schools, we have more training, more time in the booth, more overall welding experience, as well as just more attention to detail. They also have their own training and certification program, so it’s not just we get to jump right on the floor out of school. I’m actually going through a seven-week training program to make sure that I’m certified in what they need me to do: NAVSEA technician requirements.
So, this is your second week. How was week one, is it going to be a cool place to work?
For sure. It definitely was exciting. It was a little interesting going in and meeting new people, and getting used to the new environment, but I was used to that from the transition to welding school last year. I found it a pretty easy transition honestly. Everyone I’ve met at the company has been really nice and welcoming.
Is their training program hands-on or bookwork?
There’s a lot of welding to it, but bookwork is also very important to make sure we understand the welding processes. We have been out in the shop welding for the last couple days. The bookwork is important because we have to learn how to write up everything that we weld, how we weld it, just because of the importance of what we’re welding. We’re welding things that go thousands of feet deep. There are a lot of human lives at risk, so they have to make sure that we’re trained to the highest standards.
Did a few of you come up from Tulsa Welding School?
My roommate here, Jose, and I had the opportunity to come up a little earlier, but my buddies Zander and Evan and a few others from the afternoon class are going to come up and start in the next week or two.
First job in a new industry, are you happy with the money to start?
For sure. Yes, I am actually very comfortable. And I’ll get a pay bump after the seven weeks of training. It’s actually quite nice when the work you put in shines and is reflected in the amount you can make. So, if you’re willing to put forward good effort and are willing to do your best and actually be a good welding student, then you will have great success out there. There are tons of opportunities, whether it’s with W International or not. There’s money everywhere in welding. It’s a great industry to be in.
What’s your career plan from here?
That’s a great question. I would like to stay at W International for a few years and see what opportunities come, but I’m actually planning ahead. Eventually, I want to go into a nuclear power plant to TIG weld.
Nuclear welding—is that something you could do at W International with submarines and carriers?
There’s actually quite a range of stuff that W International is doing. They’re always adding more stuff that they do. One of the things is windmills in the ocean, and that does require a lot of TIG. I’m not sure exactly what the future holds with nuclear welding on submarines, but I do know that there’s a lot to be done and there’s a lot to learn. I’m just starting out with the company, so we’ll see what opportunities arise.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
It’s different things. I mean, there’s nothing like your being in your zone and welding. You can’t see anything going on around you, you’re just welding. Then there are the aspects of building stuff that I really enjoy. Just being a part of something important is also pretty cool. I also enjoy that everyone in the industry seems to have a common goal and that’s to work hard and make money. That’s what I’m all about.
Did you make some connections at school, people you want to stay in touch with?
For sure. The amount of people I met from all different parts of country, I have so many contacts on my phone. We’re all very close. Like I said, most people seemed to have a common goal and we all got along good.
It’s going to be fun when your classmates arrive, and you all have a little money in your pockets?
For sure. It will be!
What advice would you give to people considering going to Tulsa Welding School?
I’d say to work hard and always put forth good effort. Be honest in your work. Know that you’re not always going to get it the first time, you might not get it the second time, but the more you work towards something, the better you’ll get. Of course, you’ll have days where you’ll be frustrated and upset about something, but you’ve just got to push through and use that as motivation. Tell yourself, you know what, I am going to do better, I am going to be better. You’ve always got to have a forward-thinking mindset.
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