Graduate Connections – Meet Brady McDuffie

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Brady, 24, was born in Columbia, SC, but as a self-proclaimed “military brat,” he moved around a lot and calls Portland, Maine, home. Brady graduated the Welding Specialist with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in August 2022.

Thanks for your time, Brady. What did you do before coming to Tulsa Welding School?

I got my Bachelor of Science at the University of Maine. I wanted to be a Chemistry teacher! I fell in love with it in high school. I had a teacher who just made an impression on me, and I just was like, “I want to do that.” I’ve always been good at science. It didn’t matter what it was—biology, physics, or chemistry.

Where did the idea of welding come from?

In the last semester at college, I took welding as an elective. I like to build; I like to create things, even when I was a kid, Legos were my thing. I decided I might as well give welding a try. I took the class with a 67-year-old war vet welder who was really cool. He explained all the basics. We did stick, MIG, and flux core. Nothing that hard. I was like, “Oh, this is it! This is cool!”

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It that what made you give up the idea of teaching to become a welder?

After I graduated college, I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to go for my master’s and go into teaching. I wanted to try a different route. At that point I was only 22. I knew I still had a long road ahead of me. I will always have that degree; it’s not going to go anywhere. Once the next enrollment came around for Tulsa Welding School, I drove down with my parents, and we set it all up. I got myself an apartment and a job to get me through school.

Did you enroll in Pipefitting from the outset, or did you start with just the welding program?

I wanted to get out and make money as soon as I could. I wanted to start building my career, so I just enrolled in the seven-month Professional Welder program first, and then added the Pipefitting course later.

Brady McDuffie

What made you decide to stay for Pipefitting?

I asked my instructors if it was worth it. They told me it was, so I figured it would be good to have on my résumé. I’d be able to say, “I know how to do this, I know how to do that”.

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

The thing I enjoyed the most was the people that worked there. And also, I liked that everything was hands-on work. I’m a very visual learner, which is why I was so good at science. I’m able to hold it, look at it, touch it. I was able to see people do a weld, and then think, “Okay, I can do that”. I also liked that the school was open all day. I went to the morning class, which started at 7:30 a.m. I got out around 12:30p.m. I could stay in a booth the whole day if I wanted to, all the way till 11:30 p.m.

Did you get enough access to instructors, to get help?

There’s just no excuse to not get help. There were kids that were like, “Oh, it’s so hard” and I would say, “Well, did you stay after to practice and get some extra help?” They would say no, and I was like, “That’s your problem! What do you want me to tell you, man? I mean, you’ve got to put in the work”.

Did you have frustrations during the program?

Of course. But as I’ve said, you’ve just got to ask for help. The people there, they want you to do good, to succeed. The teachers all have crazy different ways. If you don’t like that teacher’s way, you can go to the next one and ask them how they do it.

How was your trade school experience compared to college?

It just depends on the person. If you like sitting in a classroom or would rather learn through a screen, go to college. But if you don’t like books, if you don’t like to read or take tests, then go to a trade school. Honestly, the teachers are probably going to care more than a college professor who gets paid regardless. At college if you miss an assignment, it’s too bad. Here, they try and help you make it up. I felt it to be a very understanding environment. They know most kids want to be there learning. It’s like a brotherhood by the end because of everything we went through together, everybody helps each other out.

Tell us about your job search?

I took a few weld tests. I passed one for Helfrich Brothers Boiler Works in Massachusetts. I would have been doing shutdowns, traveling stuff like that. Like two weeks on, one week off; three weeks on, two weeks off. I was going to take it, but then my family moved down here to Florida, so I decided to stay. I got a better opportunity here.

That’s great. Tell us about it.

I work for Haskell Steel, a structural steel fabricator in Jacksonville. They’re getting ready to expand to the Philippines and Japan. That’s very exciting. It opens a lot more opportunities. I started September 12. I went in as a welder, and a fitter helper. It’s like a steppingstone because most of the people who work there are 30 to 40 years older than me. They’re showing me how to do all these things because many of them are heading towards retirement. One of the guys is 67! There’s a lot of room for growth.

Are you enjoying it?

I am. I’m almost at my 90 days. I’ll reach that December 11, which is awesome because I’ll get a raise, holiday pay, full health coverage, and 13 uniforms! I’ll be official. I made it. I didn’t quit!

How did you get the job? Did you work with Career Services?

Of course. I worked with Miss Cheri. I love Cheri, Tracy, all of them. I was always in there bothering them!

How did they help you?

They helped me get my résumé built up around month five. Then I talked with them about what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go. They’re very good with that. Some kids are like, “Oh they didn’t help.” I’m like, “Did you ask? Did you give them something to work with?” There’s always help as long as you ask. But you have to know what you want, what interests you. If you don’t know that after five or six months of school, how can they?

They talk to you about the different companies that have opportunities, what they’re doing. They’ll even get you a company’s weld test if they have it, so you can practice. They have all the materials at the school, and sometimes they’ll even special-order material for you, which is nice. I needed help for the Helfrich Bros test. I practiced that test for about three weeks.

First job in a new industry, are you happy with the money to start?

Actually, yeah. They’ll give me a 90-day evaluation. They’ll tell me what they think that I’m worth based on my welds. I’m also getting 16 hours overtime a week. I work 10 hours a day Monday to Thursday, then eight hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

What’s your career plan from here?

Haskell is an outstanding company. They’re on top of everything. They take care of us very well. For me, I just don’t like sitting in a shop all day. I’d rather go to different locations and be outside, see new places instead of just being on an assembly line type thing. What does the future hold? It depends. If there’s a huge opportunity, then of course I’m going to take it. In the meantime, I’ll build my experience, work my way up a little, and see what happens.

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

Seeing my work. At the end of the day, what I’m doing is creating a building, a stadium, a restaurant. It’s going to sit somewhere in the world, and I know that I did that. It’s a very cool thing.

Did you make some connections at school, people you want to stay in touch with?

I talked to a lot of people, especially the teachers, at school. I stay in touch with classmates. I’ve got two friends who went to work at a composting/recycling plant in Georgia, and another friend is in South Florida working for Piper Aircraft. He’s building planes, which is really cool.

What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School?

Ask for help and show up. Really, that’s it. You just have to show up, ask for help, and give it your all.

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).