Graduate Connections – Meet Zach Gage

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Zach, 31, from Texas, graduated from the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

 

Thanks for sharing your story Zach; what did you do before coming to welding school?

Out of high school I worked in restaurants, and then for the last five years I did security guard work in nightclubs, restaurants, and apartment complexes. I just wanted something different.

 

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What made you think of welding school? 

I was having a really bad day at work as a security guard and I happened to be listening to Pandora when a commercial for Tulsa Welding School came on; I clicked the banner link and went from there!

Had you ever done any welding? In high school maybe?   

No, it was completely random. I thought I’d give it a shot because it had to be better than what I was doing! I had the option to take welding in high school, but I didn’t do it. I was into other things; I was in the Hospitality program in high school, which is why I went to work in restaurants.

What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?

I enjoyed the instructors and learning from their experience, as well as the amount of hands-on welding.

How did you find the first phase with no experience?

It was nerve-racking at first, but I picked it up fairly easily; I never really struggled. Of course, any time I had a question the instructors were right there, and I didn’t just use my instructor. If you’ve never been on the Houston campus, the lab area is just rows of welding booths and each row has an instructor. If I had a question, I would just grab whichever instructor was walking by! Anytime I had a problem, there was always somebody right there.

You didn’t know about welding coming in, did you develop a passion for it? 

I did. I really enjoyed it; some weeks I was able to stay for the morning and afternoon classes. It really became an artform for me. It’s not really work. There’s a sense of accomplishment with every weld because they’re not all the same. Even though you’re doing the same process, the same technique, every weld is different because different variable come into play. Laying down a good weld brings a sense of accomplishment every time. I really enjoy the welding part of my job.

So, tell us about your job. Where are you working?

I’m working at McDaniel Metals here in Houston. We weld very thin sheet aluminum for the HVAC industry; it’s kind of hard, niche welding. The funny thing is, there is no way to practice at the school for what McDaniels does! So, I went in there cold as well. The department I’m in welds the drip pans, the things that hold the water under an AC unit, so they better not leak!

Did you work with Career Services to get the job?

Yes, I worked with Marquis in Career Services. He gave me their number; I called, took a weld test, passed, and started! This is my first welding job. It took me a few months; I graduated in March and nobody was hiring because of COVID. Everybody was shut down, or had a hiring freeze, or was just scared and waiting it out. I started at McDaniels two weeks ago at the end of July; I just got my first paycheck!

Are you happy with the money?

Of course, the money could be better. But where it’s lacking financially, I’m gaining in experience, so there’s no downside. They’ve been so impressed with my performance that they offered my mom a job in the office! She got laid off because of COVID after 32 years in the same industry. I don’t know if she’ll take it; I really don’t want to work with my mom! But I guess she’d be on the day shift! It was pretty tough there for a while when we were both out of work. I moved back home temporarily so we could share expenses.

Do you see yourself staying there?

I think this will be a good short-term spot for me, good for experience on my résumé. I’ll spend maybe six months to a year here. I don’t believe anybody stays here very long. Out of ten welders on the job on two shifts, I think only one of them has been here longer than a year.

What shift do you work?

I work the night shift; but I had to earn the night shift by working the day shift first. But I like it; we’re in Texas so it’s not as hot welding at night! As far as the work goes, it’s a production shop so the supervisors are pretty intense; there’s no time to talk or doing anything. You’re literally doing the job until you leave.

Where do you see your welding career going?

I’m hoping to get as much hands-on experience in the field as I can in the next five years, and then move into inspecting. Once you have a certain amount of experience you can take a written test to get certified as an inspector.

What kind of work do you want to do in those five years in the field?

The first two years I’d like to spend in a production shop, similar to where I am now, where I’m just welding constantly. The more you weld, the better you get. Then I’d eventually like to get to a pipeline and do that sort of work.

Do you have your own family Zach?

No strings, just me and my Golden Retriever.

That makes heading to the pipeline easier! What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

It’s something not everybody can do. Anybody can go be a waiter or waitress at a restaurant. Anybody can strap on a flashlight and badge and sit in a chair for 12 hours as a security guard. But not everybody can weld, and even fewer people can weld good. It took a lot of pride, hard work, and dedication to get here. I was working 90+ hours a week in security, and still going to school full-time for 40 hours. I was really proud to graduate. People always asked when I slept; the answer was whenever I could!

Did you make some lasting connections at school?

Absolutely, my age was kind of a blessing because I could relate to the instructors. A lot of them were close in age to me but for a few years. Some of the students were prior military, so they were close in age too and I was able to buddy up with them. A couple of youngsters were amazing welders. There was one girl who was really good; she came to school on a scholarship and we became friends. We have a group chat, we all text each other. So, I made quite a few friends.

Is everybody on that group chat working?

Yes, everybody I believe, well except for one maybe.

What advice would you give to students for them to be successful at TWS?

All the instructors will tell you the same thing. You get out of Tulsa Welding School what you put into it. If you go in there expecting everything to be handed to you like high school, you’re not going to get anything out of the program. If you go there to work hard, good things will happen for you.

Welding takes time. At first, it’s kind of nerve-racking striking an arc and not being able to run a bead. But you work at it, and you work at it. After thousands of repetitions it’s easy now, and fun!

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).