Graduate Connections – Meet Travis Barnes

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Travis, 31, is a hometown boy; he has lived in Jacksonville, Florida, his entire life. Travis completed the seven-month Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in December 2023. He then stayed an extra couple of months to add the Pipefitting course, which he completed in February 2024. 

Thanks for your time, Travis. Tell us what you did before enrolling at Tulsa Welding School? 

I was actually in general landscaping. I can tear down a yard and put it back together. 

Where did the idea of welding school come from? 

I got hurt at my previous job. I destroyed my ankle. I had it rebuilt and with the little money I got back, I decided to put myself through school so I could learn a trade. I hate to say it like this, but instead of busting my ass for 40 hours a week for no pay, I could have a skill in my back pocket that could guarantee me a job wherever I go. 

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Good plan. It’s something no one can take away from you. There are lots of trades…why welding? 

Growing up around here in Jacksonville, I’d always see somebody playing with welding – even just for hunting and stuff like that. People would build their own dog boxes for hunting. You weld on them. I just figured, hey, it might be a great time to take up welding.

So, had you done much welding before Tulsa Welding School?

I’d done a little, but I was no Picasso. With the training that I got from Tulsa Welding School, my welding is a whole lot better today. Like I said, I could put together a dog box well enough to hold the hounds and go through the woods, but other than that, I didn’t know anything about it.

Did you add the Pipefitting course later, or did you enroll in it from the start?

I enrolled on the Professional Welder program, but then I thought more about it. Say you get a job out in the field; they’re not going to hire a welder and then hire a pipefitter, it’s too expensive. What they’re going to do is hire somebody who knows how to weld, and pipe fit. I figured I could earn higher pay and be in more demand by having both skillsets. I’d already put in seven months, what’s an extra two or so?

That makes sense. What did you enjoy most about your time at TWS?

I enjoyed the comradery. I enjoyed the interaction with the teachers and the willingness of students to help each other. It didn’t matter what anybody was working on. One student could have been on TIG, another person in another class could have been on MIG and they’d be like, “Hey man, let me show you what worked for me here.” We had people who’d been welding for two/three years who came back just to get their certification. They’ve already been in big jobs in MIG welding, in TIG welding, they’d been in the stick welding industry. For people like me who didn’t really know much, they were a godsend. They were always happy to help us along the way. So, for me, my favorite part was the comradery of the students and the teachers, their willingness to teach you. Everybody was there for everybody else.

Did you have any frustrations on the program? 

I had some days where I said, “Eff it”, walked out with my toolbox and came back the next day. I’m not going to lie. I did have a couple of days where I walked in, and things just didn’t go right. From the way I set it all up, to my arc speed, to my…everything. I’m not going to go into the full detail of it all, but things just didn’t line up in the cosmos on those days is how I’d explain it. 

How did you handle those frustrations?

Usually I just stepped away, walked to my car, smoked a cigarette, calmed down for a minute and then walked back in and figured it out. As I said, a couple of days I just went home and came back fresh the next day. Stainless steel TIG welding kicked my ass for the first couple days, but then it went well. Quitting was never an option for me. How ever you handle it yourself, just be sure to come back in and get back in that booth. It’s the only way you’re going to get better.

Good advice! So, you finished class three weeks ago, where are you working?

I work for A&K Machine & Fab Shop in Jacksonville. We do custom fabrication jobs in industries like aerospace, the railroad, construction, and even in the medical field. I’ve worked on semi-trailers, bed rails, the racks for the gurneys in ambulances, or the meat wagon as my granddaddy called them.

How did you get the job? 

I filled out a couple applications with Career Services, but then a really good family friend told me he knew a place that would be really good for me. And that’s where I went. I got the job before I even started the pipefitting program. It’s a great place. On the weekends, if I’m working on something or I need a little help with something, the boss will open up the shop, let me come in for four or five hours just to practice.

You mentioned making no money in landscaping. Are you happy with where you’ve started financially?

Oh, yes. Yes, sir. Very happy with it. I’m not complaining about $18.50 an hour. Overtime is double time and that tops off the checks. I know that I’ve only got seven months’ experience inside a classroom learning how to weld plates together. So, I know I’m not real world ready; I mean I’m ready, but not completely ready for somebody to throw me into the lion’s den and say, “Here completely build this. And by the way, it’s got to be perfect, and you’ve got three hours.” That’s not going to happen for most people right off the bat – it takes time to learn anything. 

That’s true. You’ve got to earn your way up sometimes. What’s your career plan from here, Travis?

Well, my goal for my welding career is to put my time in and then I want to go back to Tulsa Welding School as an instructor. I need at least five years field experience, but I want to be a teacher at Tulsa one day! Until then, I’m going to build my experience with A&K over the next six/seven months and then I want to go work at the shipyard here. That’s a whole different world of experience over there.

Why do you want to become an instructor?

I guess the joy of helping people. You see kids come in…I shouldn’t say kids because we’re all adults there… you see students come in and at first, it’s like, “Oh, I can’t get this!” Then you show them a way that works for you, and they pick it up. Then you really see the joy they get from figuring something out that somebody else has taught them. It was a good feeling when I taught someone my way and it worked for them, or they adapted a way that I showed them into a way that will work for them. It’s a good feeling.

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

It’s the fabrication aspect of it. Being able to say, “Hey, I built that!” Stepping back and knowing you built something useful, that’s a good feeling. 

Did you make some connections at school? Friends that you’ll stay in touch with. 

Yes sir. People of all ages.

Any that stayed in Jacksonville, or have they all moved away around the country? 

I have two that are here in Jacksonville right now. I know they’re working, but I couldn’t tell you who for!

What advice do you have for someone to be successful at Tulsa Welding School? 

Pay attention and don’t hang out in the parking lot. I saw a lot of people wasting time out there. Don’t waste the instructor’s time and then the instructor won’t be wasting your time. Just remember, you’re paying for this, nobody else is, so make the most of it. Always stay positive. If you get frustrated, don’t look at welding school as the hardest thing you’ve done in your life. Just look at it like it’s going to be a new chapter in your life, and it’s going to be the best one you’ve started yet.

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/Dallas).