Tracy, 32, from Houston, Texas, graduated from the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in August 2020.
Thanks for your time, Tracy. Tell us what you did before coming to welding school?
I had a bunch of different jobs, mostly in customer service, which I hated. Welding is a complete career change for me!
What was it about welding that appealed to you?
Firstly, because it’s an art. You get to create things, mold things together and burn them together. Secondly, you don’t have to deal with people too much.
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How did you discover the idea? Is there a family connection?
My cousin introduced me to it in 2015. She showed me videos of welding work she’s done and how she did it; she thought I might be interested. She actually thought I might be a better welder than her because her hands shake more than mine! Although she talked to me about it, I never tried welding until I got to TWSTC.
That was five years ago. What happened?
I did try to get into a welding school back then, a government training program actually, but they didn’t accept me because I was working. You had to be unemployed to go for free. So I put the idea on pause for a while until I had the opportunity to go to Tulsa Welding School this year.
Having never welded before, how was the first month of the program?
It was intense. Why does this keep getting stuck? What am I doing wrong? Sometimes I hadn’t turned on my machine and didn’t know it! I picked up the phone to my cousin and said, “Girl, what did you get me into?” I would call her all the time to ask questions, because I didn’t want to bother my teacher too much. I knew he had other people to help. My cousin helped me, gave me advice…my own private phone tutor!
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
My teachers. I only had four teachers throughout the program. Some of them I had for back to back phases. They were so patient with us; they took the time to teach us and correct us. They showed us what we were doing wrong and how to correct it. They would even give us tips like, “Don’t do this on a weld test, but you could do it this way!” I liked all the pointers they gave, and I really enjoyed the way they would take the time to go into the detail of how to do a weld.
So, you graduated a couple of months ago…where are you working?
I work for Sabre Industries in Conroe, Texas. I’m welding steel pipe for the utilities industry.
Congratulations! You only graduated 6 weeks ago. When did you start?
I started two weeks ago in mid-September.
How did you get the job?
I applied on Indeed.com and sent in my résumé. Then Jakis in the Career Services team at Tulsa in Houston sent me the job lead. I told him I had already applied. After he congratulated me for being on top of it, he sent my name and a recommendation over to the recruiter at Sabre. He said he hoped it might help bump my name up the list, and that someone would reach out to me. They did, and here I am!
Are you happy with the money you’re making?
I feel that it’s perfect for a start. I’m just now getting my feet wet. It’s a learning experience and they are being very patient with me.
So, is it comparable to what you earned doing the customer service jobs?
Oh, no, this is totally better! I should have done this ten years ago.
Are you happy with the decision just a couple of weeks into your new career?
I haven’t run across anything yet I’m not happy with. I mean, my feet hurt after a 12-hour night shift, but that’s about it!
How is it being a female in a traditionally male environment?
It’s fine, no problem. I’m the only female welder overnight where I’m working. There is another woman, but she’s a Lead so she’s not welding anymore.
Where do you see your welding career going?
I eventually want to be an inspector, but that’s a few years away. I do have family that I want to stay close to – my mom is in and out of the hospital – so I don’t see myself going traveling. I think I’d like to stay at Sabre; it seems like a good company and they do have inspectors here, so maybe I will apply for one of those positions one day. Getting better at this job is all about repetition; the more I do it, the better I’ll get, and the faster I can work. My goal is just to keep learning and getting better.
How do you like the night shift? 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.?
It’s not too bad. I drink a lot of coffee if I get drowsy! There is a pay bump for the night shift, so that helps. I’m still trying to adjust my sleep schedule. I usually work Sunday through Thursday, but this week I had a mandatory Friday. My first week I pulled 70 hours, including 20 hours overtime at time and a half.
That’s a nice first paycheck! What did you spend it on?
That’s sensible…but boring!! What does your typical day look like?
I have a 45-minute commute. When I get off at 5:00 a.m., I come home, grab something to eat, jump in the shower, then I’m out. Usually I go to bed by 6:30 a.m. at the latest, and I try to sleep till 11:30 a.m./Noon. Then I do chores around the house, or I’ll just relax before heading off to work around 4:00 p.m.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
I like that not everyone can do it. It’s something that a lot of people are intrigued by, but something they wouldn’t go for. I’m proud because I think it’s a job that people admire!
Did you make some lasting connections, some friends, at school that you’ll stay in touch with?
Yes. Personally, there are about three of us who stay in touch, but I am in a private female welding group on Facebook called Welding Women. There are over 5,000 members, and lots of female welders post welding jobs and opportunities on there. It’s a private group. You can apply to join, but you have to be a woman welder.
What advice would you give to students for them to be successful at TWS?
Don’t give up. It does get frustrating. You will have days where you’ll be really good, and you’ll have days where you just get mad at it! So just keep going. It’s all about repetition. You have to keep going to get better. And I don’t just mean keep going mentally, but keep going to class, keep showing up at school, even when you’re frustrated. Don’t miss a day. Missing a day on this program is like missing a week’s worth of information – it’s so intense. Show up and show out. Don’t compare your work to anyone else’s work. Just compare yourself to your own improvement.
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).