Graduate Connections – Met K. Justice Barrow

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Justice, 30, is from Brooklyn, New York. He moved to Jacksonville in 1996. Justice graduated from the ten-month Professional Welder with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in March 2021.


Thanks for your time, Justice. What did you do before you came to TWS?

After high school I took a year off while I was in the Marines Corp DEP program (Delayed Entry Program). It’s a program where they get all your paperwork taken care of and you get into physical shape to be ready for boot camp. I then served in the Marine Corps for four years. I did a tour in Afghanistan; I was on a MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) ship traveling to different countries. I was actually stationed in Japan and ended up staying there after my tour. I spent most of my 20s in Japan.


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Thank you for your service. You stayed in Japan after your tour ended?

After the military I came back to the US to go to the Art Institute of Washington to study video production for a year. But, yes, I then went back to Japan and studied business administration over there. I had a few civilian jobs on base.


How did you get from living in Japan to enrolling at Tulsa Welding School?

I came back to the US to visit family in Florida just at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020; I was actually planning on moving to the Philippines after my visit home to try and retire early in a cheap place to live! But I was kind of stuck in Florida because of the pandemic and I was bored. Someone I knew told me they were going to Tulsa Welding School. I figured if he could do it, I could do it. So, I went up to the school, used my GI Bill, and signed up.


Had you ever done any welding before?

No, I didn’t know anything about welding – nothing! But I’m good at jumping into something and getting on with it, picking it up.


Did you enroll thinking it looked fun because you were bored, or thinking of it as a career?

Honestly, a little of both. The first day, seeing all the demonstrations, I thought I could do this, then after getting my hands on it and practicing, I thought it could be something I could do for a while.


Why welding instead of another trade?

I had a friend who was doing electric work, and he told me the math was a little advanced. I wanted to take a more physical, hands-on route instead of stressing my brain out!


Did you find welding frustrating at times, or easy?

I found it frustrating at times, especially when I started a new technique, and it didn’t work out properly. That got frustrating for sure.


Talk to me about getting a job after school. Did you work with Career Services?

I did work with the Career Services team, I still do. Do you want the long or short story?

Give us the headlines!

The first job they sent me to, both the school and I were under the impression I’d be welding custom car rims. But when I get to the job, I was getting underpaid, and I wasn’t welding. I was basically flipping tires at a tire shop. They basically lied to the school about the job description and what they would pay welders. I did it for two weeks because I didn’t want to just quit the first job that the school got me – I almost felt a little guilty. But when I went back to the school and told them the situation, they said they would find me something else. They sent me to another company; the interview was great, my weld test was perfect, but they took forever to come back to me. That’s when I went to the company that I’m at now. I did an interview, a weld test, and they hired me on the spot. Third time’s the charm!


Congratulations! You did the right thing. What’s this company called?

The official name is Custom Material Handling. But I’m working for Vegas Carts; same building, same owner. We MIG weld golf cart parts. We take a golf cart that goes 15 mph and build parts for it – like an engine block cradles, mufflers – that will make it faster. We don’t weld the carts; we make the parts.


When did you start there?

April 1st, 2021. It didn’t take long after graduation to go through that process and land here.


Were you happy with the money you started on back in April?

Oh yeah, I was satisfied at the time. You have to prove your worth and I did that very quickly. But yes, there’s always room for more, but they address that here. I’ve had a raise since I started. I’m hoping in a year from now to have another raise and be above people who are doing what I’m doing right now. It’s a smaller company but they are growing, and we have the opportunity to build almost anything. They are moving into different products, like trailers.

What’s your career plan from here?

Real estate. I’m taking the checks I make from welding and investing in real estate. I want to use my GI Bill, flip some houses, do some wholesaling in the future. How long I stay in welding all depends on the money and the perks I get. My plan before the pandemic was to move to the Philippines and retire early…I still like that idea, but I think I’ll stay in the U.S for a while. I was open minded when I came into this, so I’m taking it step by step. So far, I like it – it’s soothing to watch the patterns that you make.


Is that what you enjoy most about your new trade?

I enjoy the satisfaction of building, of creating, something that will be used for a long time. I also like that I’m making something for a small amount of money that will sell for a bigger price…that’s interesting to me when I think about it.


Did you make some connections at Tulsa? People you will stay in touch with.

Not really. I was just really focused on getting good at welding. Because I didn’t know anything about it when I came in, I was just focused on getting everything down. I did the morning shift at school, and I took the opportunity to come in whenever I could because I wasn’t working at the time. There was always room, a booth available. I didn’t really start speaking to anyone until I got too the Pipefitting phase in January. It was less individual work and more group work then.


Do you do any welding outside of work?

No, not yet. I haven’t got a welding machine yet, but I intend to get one to maybe do some side jobs one day. They’re not really that expensive. I’ve also thought about making some sculptures, some art. I’ve seen a lot of technical things, crazy things, done with welding to make art.


What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School for them to be successful?

Just practice. Even if it seems like it’s not going to work, just practice. It’s the only thing that is going to be beneficial with welding. Welding could be an easy career for a lot of people. If you have the skills and can pass a weld test, there are a lot of jobs out there. If you have the skills, you can walk into a place and work there…as long as your background check and all that stuff is good!


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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