Graduate Connections – Meet Dave Matthews

Dave Matthews

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Dave graduated from the Professional Welder program at the Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus, in February 2018. Dave, aged 61, lived in Wisconsin for 30 years but now lives in Florida.

Thanks for sharing your story, Dave. What made you start a second career at age 60?

I spent just shy of 40 years in law enforcement before I retired from that field, but in today’s world, you don’t want to retire too early. I decided to get some skills in an area that I had an interest in, skills that would make me employable.

I’m sure you considered a few options. What made you focus on welding?

I was looking for something totally new that I could spend the next 8 to 10 years doing. I’ve been involved with different types of metal working, wood working and light construction over the years. I’ve enjoyed working with tools and building things with my hands. So when it came time to research opportunities, it made sense to me. Add to that the relatively short program length to develop some marketable skills and it added up, so I enrolled at Tulsa Welding School.

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What was your favorite part about the program?

I very much enjoy studying new things. But having the amount of hands-on time we had was critical to developing the skills and the basic competences of welding. They cover a very broad area and help you develop a lot of skills in different processes. Having done well in the school, I consider myself qualified with some basic competencies. I’ll be able to fine-tune my skills in an employment situation.

How was being in school with classmates who were 40+ years younger than you?

I found it interesting; I was engaged in learning with kids the age of my own grandkids! There were some great kids and some troubled kids. There were some young adults who had recognized that they needed to develop some specialized skills to compete in the job market. There were so many people from so many different backgrounds; I found that an interesting part of the program.

What would you say to other people your age who might be concerned about the age range?

At the end of the day, none of the social or environmental factors—such as age—impact one’s ability to develop a skill. In fact, you spend so much time alone in the booth and under the hood welding that the social interactions are around the edges. It is a skill one learns mostly in a solitary fashion. If the social side of it is a concern to anyone my age, it’s not a factor.Dave Matthews 2

You graduated just two weeks ago. Are you working?

I have a position with National Boiler Service. I will soon be taking off for my first assignment in a paper mill in Virginia, so I’m really excited about that. It’s scheduled to be a 21-day project, but I believe that once that job is closing out, I call the company and they send me to the next job. This company is extremely active in the spring and fall when power plants can come offline for some refurbishment. I’ll be working 12-hour days, 7 days a week. But then I’m told you’re generally not expected to work as much during summer and winter when the power plants are working hard.

Does the travel appeal?

It will be a change. I could see where it might be a difficult lifestyle if you had a young family, but I’ve traveled a lot in my work in the past. I will miss being at home, of course, but I will have months every year where I’m not away. At this point in my life, I think I’d rather go away and get the work done and then come home and relax, rather than working the routine 40 hours a week, 12 months a year. I think it’s a great opportunity to get started and that it will be a good fit. Time will tell.

How did you get the job?

One of the most under-recognized values of Tulsa Welding School is the Career Services department. During the last phase of school, Phase 10, I had the opportunity to work every afternoon until 6pm in what they call Phase 11, which is an instructional prep and practice class for weld tests. It came as a surprise because Phase 11 wasn’t really talked up that much, but at no expense to me the school assigned an instructor, time, materials and equipment to learn a new set of skills that would make us qualified to test for a company working industrial boiler shutdowns. I managed to pass the needed tests and was offered the position.

I’m quite confident that if I’d tried to take those certification tests cold, without any help or instruction, I would certainly have failed. So I think Career Services is a very under-appreciated asset to the school. They work extremely hard to help students with resumes, how to present themselves and give them access to employment opportunities.

What do you enjoy most about being a welder?

The ongoing development of a skill. During the seven months in school, I learned that it’s much like golfing! If you play golf, once in a while you’ll hit a great shot and think you’ve figured it out, but really, you didn’t. But with repetition, you’ll improve your skills. With daily repetition, you’ll eventually become an expert in the field.

What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?

I went into the program knowing I really enjoyed developing skills, working with tools and working with different types of materials. I wasn’t too concerned with whether I would like doing it. I would say, make sure you like welding before you enroll, because you’re not going to go anywhere with it if you don’t enjoy it. A lot of guys straight out of high school had been welding for four years in high school before they got there. I would recommend any young person to find a way to see if they enjoy welding, even if it’s a two-credit evening class or something.

What I’ve always done is find enjoyment in the thing that I’m doing and always be looking for opportunities to develop specialized skills. The path for success for anybody is to be really good at what you’re doing in the moment. Always keep your eye open for new opportunities to develop skills that not a whole lot of people are good at! Do that, and a career develops itself.

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). 

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