Graduate Connections – Meet Paul Mckinest

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Paul, 31, from McLain, Mississippi, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in January 2021.

Thanks for sharing your story, Paul. Tell us what you did before enrolling in welding school?

I had a scholarship to be play baseball after high school, and I did that for a year or two. But I decided I wanted to work, so I got my first job with the city of Hattiesburg, MS. I was making $9/10 an hour as a landscaper. I did that for about three or four years.

When did you first learn to weld?

I went to community college for a structural welding program, I graduated in 2010. That’s when I first started welding. I was 19 or 20. After that program I went to Ingalls Shipyard for a job, but I didn’t pass the weld test. That failure brought me down because I really wanted it, so I gave up on welding for a while, to be honest. After that, I worked with temp companies and such. It wasn’t what I wanted as I got older. I was in my mid-20s then, and I always said I wanted to be welding for a living before I turned 30.

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Where did the idea of welding first come from?

It’s just something I wanted to do. I knew it was just a good trade. It would be good money and people will always need welders. I’ve always been artistic. Running a weld is like drawing. It’s a constant state of motion like drawing, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I liked it and went forward from there.


How did you decide on TWS in Houston?

I moved to Houston with someone, but to cut a long story short, that relationship didn’t work out. I thought Texas would offer more welding opportunities, but when the pandemic hit, no one was hiring. So I checked to see if there were any welding programs around here. I was looking to find a welding school where I could practice, so I could try to start my welding career up again. That’s what I really wanted to do. By the Grace of God, Tulsa came up when I searched, and it was 10 minutes away from where I was staying at the time.

I called and talked to Roger, my Admissions Representative. He was a nice guy. He invited me to the school and showed me the different things I’d be doing if I signed up. I decided to enroll. It was kind of a blessing because at the time I was in kind of a hard place.

What was going on?

There were no jobs. I’d moved here to be with someone and that hadn’t worked out. She wanted me out. I had no place to go. It was hard, but my mindset was not to give up on school, not to quit. I stuck with that mindset. It’s all part of being an adult; sometimes you have to go through trials and tribulations to get where you need to go in life. I wasn’t going to stop school for nothing or nobody, and that’s what I did.

What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?

To be honest, I enjoyed everything. It was hard, especially after the first few weeks because I didn’t know how to TIG weld. I only knew how to do structural welding, but everything else was new to me, like pipe welding, so that was a challenge. But the instructors were good, and my classmates helped me out.

You graduated in January. Where are you working?

I started at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in February. I work 6:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Did Career Services help you get the job?

A few months before I finished school, I decided that I wanted to try Ingalls again if the opportunity came up. Like I said before, I took a weld test there back in 2010. When I failed that, it threw me off, I gave up on welding because I was young and naïve. I wasn’t as motivated as I am now. But I told my Careers Advisor, Ms. Sharon, that I’d like to work in Texas, but if I had to go back to Mississippi then that’s what I would do. The jobs that came up in Texas weren’t what I was looking for, so she gave me the details for the recruiter at Ingalls and I called him up. I came back home, took the test, passed it, and went from there.

Congratulations on your persistence. 11 years later you got the job! Are you enjoying it?

I appreciate that. It was perseverance and determination. This is my career now and I enjoy it. The money is decent, but I know there is always more to be made. So, I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing, stay focused to try to better myself, and put myself in the right position to make better money. But the pay is good, I wouldn’t trade it or my career for anything. 

What’s your career plan from here?

Of course, I plan on being at Ingalls for a while, but my plan is to make my own money working for myself. I want to have my own welding truck, my own business, make my own money to support a family. I know this career can do that for me. There is money to be made; I’ve just got to get out and get it!

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

It’s a challenge and I like challenges. Different jobs require different techniques. You have to be certified in what your employer wants you to be certified for. Even though I am a certified welder I have to get certified in what I’m doing for them. I’m doing stuff now I didn’t learn at school. It’s the same at any welding job. If this is what you want to do, you’ve just got to get up and do it! Put your mind to it.

What advice would you give to new students for them to be successful at TWS?

You can do it if you put your mind to it. Everything is possible, you’ve just got to be willing to accept what comes to you and go from there. I know that if I managed to go through what I went through and still graduate, you can do the same. I’m a big believer that things happen at the right time for a reason. Put your mind to it, that’s all it is, and you can be successful.

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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