Robert is a career services advisor at the Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus. Robert’s focus is working with students and graduates of the HVAC and electrical programs offered at our Florida campus. Robert joined the TWS team in January 2018.
Thanks for your time, Robert. Please tell us a little about your background.
I have a bachelor’s degree in English Education. You can tell from my accent that I don’t talk perfect English—it’s a little country—but I can teach perfect English! I did taxes for a couple of years and financial advising for a couple of years. I ran two multi-million dollar companies. My family had a very successful chain of dry cleaners that I managed before becoming the CFO. I also had my own company. I flipped commercial properties.
Is this your first role in education?
I taught English for a year in 1994, but the pay wasn’t very good, so I went back into the family business.
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So why did you decide to come back to education?
I’ve always had a passion for education and helping others. After 40 years, I finally persuaded my mother to retire, so we closed down the family business. I’d also shut down my commercial property business because the market had tanked, so it was time to revisit my passion.
I didn’t know whether I’d be a counselor or a teacher. I love to see students succeed, and clearly working in Career Services would be a perfect opportunity to channel that. I was actually hired for a student services position, which I did for about a month. They shifted me over to Career Services because of my background, I believe, and it’s been an absolute blast, a lot of fun. I do love this. I can honestly say that every morning I’m excited about coming to work. We’re like a big family, and every day is a challenge.
So what do you do for students?
I work with the HVAC, refrigeration and electrical side of the school. When I started with Career Services, I worked with welding students, too, but now I focus purely on the HVAC campus.
I help students with their résumés and, of course, help them get jobs after graduation. I can also help them get part-time jobs while they’re going to school. If they go to school in the mornings and need a job in the afternoons, I have different staffing agencies I go to. I try to get them a part-time job in their field so they get some on-the-job training as they’re going to school because I think that helps in the long run.
How many people are in your team?
On the HVAC/electrical side with three different programs, it’s just me, but the welding school has three career service advisors because they have more students.
When will a student first meet you?
At orientation. We have morning and night classes at the moment, so I go to their orientation meetings, introduce myself and explain what I can do for them. I tell them I’m also here to listen if they have a problem. I pass out my business cards, tell them to memorize my numbers to call me or just come see me, because I really want them to succeed. I try to be someone they can talk to.
Tell us about your recent career fair.
We just had my first Employers’ Day since I’ve been here. Moving forward, I’ll try to do at least three a year because it’s important for students to have that access, to be able to ask employers questions about the field. Doing three events a year will give most students access to at least two.
I had eight employers show up. We shut classes down for a couple of hours to let everyone meet the employers and ask questions. Out of that, I probably got 20-30 people hired at different companies, even students who are still going to school. I got them afternoon part-time jobs with the promise that if they do great and graduate, they’ll move on to full-time, which is great! It’s been a really good experience.
What access do graduates have to you?
If you graduate from Tulsa Welding School, Career Services is with you for life. I’m working with some guys who graduated two years ago. I’m also currently working with a lady who graduated in 2014 and just lost her job. We first have to update her résumé, then we can get her back out there. We also brush up waivers where they can come in brush up on their skills if they need to.
What are some typical questions you get asked by students?
I get a lot of résumé questions. I’ve talked to a lot of students about how to talk to people when they go in for an interview. I talk to them about body language—not to cross their arms, to make good eye contact, use “Yes, sir. No, sir.”
I tell them it’s all about selling yourself. You’ve got to be that great person they want to hire. A lot of students call me after getting a job to say thanks because I really helped them. Of course, I’ve already talked to most employers about the student I’m recommending, so they have an advantage. They already have their foot in the door. They just have to do the rest of the work and be themselves.
They also ask, “How much am I going to make?” That’s one of the big questions, but I always tell them we all start at the bottom. If you put 100% into work, it will pay off, and you will get rewarded. Tell me what you want to make, be realistic and I’ll try to find you a job that will get you to that rate—maybe not on day one, but with the potential. We want everyone to graduate and get the job they want to get.
How can students help you to help them?
Start thinking about your résumé earlier so we can get them out faster. If you’re here for a nine-month EMT program, don’t come and find me in the eighth month! Communicate with me. Stop by and see me, meet me, talk to me. The better I can get to know you, the more I can learn about you and the better I can help find a job that will be a good fit for you. We won’t stop until we succeed.
What advice do you have for students who may be considering attending TWS?
This is a great school and these are trades for life. We’re always going to have electricity, so we’re always going to need electricians. We’re always going to need refrigeration and air conditioning guys, especially here in Florida! So make the most of this opportunity. Again, like I said before, if you put 100% into this, it will pay off for you.