Graduate Connections – Meet Kyler Byford

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Kyler, 25, from Lone Grove, Oklahoma, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in December 2022.

Thanks for your time, Kyler. What did you do before enrolling at Tulsa Welding School?

I was actually a mechanic for about six years, working at Chevy and Ford dealers. Then I went to work at an iron foundry just down the road from my hometown. I quickly found out that I didn’t want to be in that building for the next 29-and-a-half years. That’s why I decided to go to school.

A lot of people like the mechanic trade, why did you leave that career?

I actually enjoyed being a mechanic, and I still enjoy working on that stuff nowadays. But the problem is that everything is based off “flag pay.” Flag pay is where you go off book time. They have two technicians do each job that is in the book 10 times. They average out that amount of time to do that job, and that’s how they create the rate for each job. So, let’s say for example, you bring your car in for an oil change. Your car pays me half an hour because that’s what the book says, and I’m getting paid $10/hour. If it takes me 45 minutes, I only made $5. If I get it done in 10 minutes, I still made that $5 but I made money because I beat the clock. That and the whole parts supply problem meant I needed to get out of there.

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Makes sense. So, why did you choose to go to welding school?

My grandpa used to run the pipeline. He enjoyed it out on the road, and I knew that if he enjoyed it, I’d probably like it too because me and him are pretty much identical. I thought I’d go give it a shot.

Had you done any welding with your grandpa before coming to TWS?

I did some welding with my dad and my grandpa. I probably welded with one of my uncles too at some point or another, I don’t remember for sure. My dad’s got a farm back home, so if we had to weld up fence or whatever, we’d just go bring the welding machine out.

kyler byford

So, it wasn’t new to you then?

No. But I mean I learnt a whole lot more at Tulsa than what my family showed me. We were just trying to get stuff done, to make it work and hold up. It’s at a farm, so no one’s going to see it besides the animals!

What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?

I would say the night shift instructors since I was on night shift for the entire seven months. They’re great guys. If I had any questions, they were more than willing to come to my booth and show me what I could be doing wrong, figure out a way to make it better, or at least show me how to do it a different way.

So, I guess you were working during the day? Was it a welding job?

I was just picking up work to get by. Between work and school, I’d run about 16 or 17 hours a day.

When did you start working with Career Services to prepare for your job search?

I think I waited until the last three weeks or so during the last phase of the program. I spoke with Danielle in the Career Services team and asked about jobs, and if there was anything going on. She told me there was a job fair coming up. I didn’t think I’d make it because of work. We were shorthanded. But I lucked out; I got a chance to cut out of work and made it to the school as the company I wanted to talk to were packing their stuff up to leave. It’s actually the company I work for right now. It all worked out pretty well, even though I didn’t get to talk to them as long as I wanted.

What’s the name of the company, and how did you know you wanted to talk with them?

It’s Tanco Engineering. They build and repair above ground storage tanks. The only reason I knew of them was because Danielle told me about the company before they came to the job fair. It’s a traveling job.

Tell us more about your experience with Tanco so far.

The only way I’m getting paid is if I’m on a job, or if I’m on a plane or traveling down the road to a job. I started off in Houston at the George Bush Airport, then they asked me if I wanted to go to Hawaii on a job. After six weeks in Hawaii, I came to Carlsbad, New Mexico. I’ve been here four weeks. We just got done with a crude oil tank out here in the desert. I found out I don’t want to be here during the summer!

Can you take time off if you want between jobs? Are they flexible?

When I came back from Hawaii, I called the office, and they told me what was next. I said I’d like to take a week or so off before leaving, and they were very flexible. Even though I’m brand new to the company, they didn’t think anything of it. They just said, “Take your week off, get your stuff together, and head down to New Mexico.” If you show up to work, do a good job, then when you need some time off, they’re going to let you have it. It kind of surprised me really. You just have to remember that you aren’t getting paid when you’re not working or traveling.

So, where’s next?

The office called me the day before yesterday and asked if I wanted to go back to Hawaii for six weeks. I don’t really want to, but I will go. Some other jobs have been pushed back, so if I go over there, when I come back at the end of June then maybe these other jobs will be kicking off in Montana and Wyoming.

Why don’t you want to? Many of us would love the chance of a month in Hawaii on the company dime!

Hawaii’s a vacation place. When you’re working seven 12s, it’s not a fun place to be. You can see all the fun stuff you want to do, what everyone else is doing, but you can’t do it because you’re always at work!

Five months or so in, how do you like traveling welding? I hear the money is good.

I’m happy. I could do the travel thing for some time honestly. The money is good, but of course you’re on the road a lot, you’re away from family for weeks or months at a time. That can be hard, but you’ve got to deal with it. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, but I’ve got Grandma and Grandpa and everyone else back home. Eventually I’d love to make it overseas to places like Japan and Europe, especially Greece. I like the idea of that.

So, what’s your career plan from here?

I don’t know for sure. If I make it back to Oklahoma one day, that’d be great. It all depends on what life throws at me, there’s no way to really know.

What do you enjoy most about welding?

If you put in the work, it can be very rewarding. Even though I’m out in the desert right now, the money’s good. That’s really all I can tell you about it right now!

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

Yeah, I’ve got a handful that I keep in touch with. I think they’re actually all still around Tulsa somewhere. One of them stayed on at TWS to do the associate degree welding program. I think he graduates in June. Another buddy needs to take care of some stuff back home, but he hopes to be traveling either with me, or just traveling in general, by the end of the year.

What advice do you have for new students to be successful at TWS?

I’d tell them to put the work in at school. Don’t be one of those people who slack off and don’t do anything while they’re there. Take advantage of the opportunity. As long as you’re paying attention and putting the effort in to try, the instructors will be more than willing to help you.

Another piece of advice is once you’re done with school, if you want to do the traveling thing, then get some sort of trailer to live in. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy, it’s just something to live out of because it will save you money on the per diem side. You’ll get a whole lot more money in your pocket in the end.

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).