Dominic, 22, born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, graduated the Associate of Occupational Studies in Welding Technology degree program at Tulsa Welding School in April 2022. Dominic completed all three welding-related programs at the Tulsa campus. He started with the Professional Welder program, then the three month pipefitting program*, before completing the associate degree program.
Thanks for your time, Dominic; what did you do before deciding to enroll at TWS?
After high school I moved away for college; I went to Oklahoma State for Mechanical Engineering. I did it for two years, and then lost my passion for class. My parents pushed me to go; that was the normal path for my family. I didn’t care for the politics in college, I just wanted to do something with my hands again.
Again? What do you mean by that? Had you welded before?
I welded for all four years of high school. I tried it for my freshman year and fell in love with it. A bunch of us did it all four years. We competed in welding competitions. We had a welding team; we went and competed against college students and other schools around our district. I really didn’t want to be an engineer. I missed building and fabricating stuff; welding was just like second nature to me basically.
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Did you consider welding school before college, or was that not an option?
Not really. We had representatives from a union come to our school because we had a big pipefitters union out there in Chicago. But I was a pretty good student; I had the grades to go to college. My buddies were going, so it was just like a natural path. A few people went to trade school, so I thought I’d keep the trade in my back pocket. I always thought if I ever wanted to get out of college I could always go back to welding!
So, you dropped out of college?
Yes, I just dropped out after my second year. I spent a little time over the summer working as a part delivery guy for a car dealership before starting the Professional Welder program in the Fall of 2020. Then I did the three-month Pipefitting* program; I got lucky, I got in there a couple months before they discontinued it in Tulsa – and then I stayed for another seven months to complete the degree program.
Did you want to do all three programs when you enrolled at TWS?
Initially, no, I didn’t want to. I was only going there for the professional welding course. I then wanted to find myself a pipeline job where I could travel and see the world.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?
I liked the environment, being around all the students who were going there for the same purpose. We were there to learn a trade and become good at it. Everyone works together, helps each other. There were days when I finished my welds early, so I’d help other students who were struggling with a process or a weld. That’s what I liked; we were all one team, all trying to achieve one goal, relying on each other.
Sounds very different to your college experience.
It was so different to college because you might walk around a college campus and not know anyone there. But at Tulsa, you see the same people every day, five days a week, and you just grow together basically.
I understand you got pretty involved in the school.
I graduated top of my class through every program. I was student ambassador president; I was student body president. I went to meetings where the school met with the major employers that hires TWS students. I was in those meetings with the school’s president, staff, and the employers. We’d go back and forth on what could be changed in the curriculum. What are employers looking for students to learn? What do they want us to know going out into the field? How can the school better prepare us?
It sounds interesting to be that involved. So, where are you working?
I finished school on April 7th and got a job in Arizona 10 days later working for a family-owned inspection company called Caliber QC. We are a third-party inspection company. Companies contract us out to inspect their work. I’m working with JB Henderson right now at the Ocotillo campus in Chandler, AZ.
So, are you a CWI? A Certified Welding Inspector?
No. I have my CAWI (Certified Associate Welding Inspector) certification, one step below a CWI. I need a little more experience to be able to get my CWI certification, hopefully next year.
Let’s set expectations here: isn’t it unusual to get an inspector or QC job right out of school?
Yes, I got extremely lucky. Like I said, I put in the work at Tulsa Welding School. I got all the awards that are possible through that school. I think that’s what really put me ahead of everyone. I basically worked my ass off at welding school, and it paid off. I built up my résumé and I really tried my hardest. I also worked at a fabrication shop throughout school for more experience.
My employer saw all that and decided to take a chance on me. Sure, I don’t have actual work experience yet, but I’ve shown that I have a strong work ethic – I show up 30 minutes before I even have to be on site – I pay my dues, and I just keep learning. I just want to keep developing my skills and learning no matter what. I just want to absorb as much information as I can.
If TWS graduates think they have what it takes to get into inspections, Caliber QC is always looking for quality people with the right attitude and résumé. I’d encourage them to email us at [email protected].
Do you ever get any sideways looks from older welders, as a 22-year-old inspector?
Oh yeah, and I do look 22, so I definitely get looked at sideways when I get called up to inspect something. But it’s all about being humble. You don’t want to show up and start inspecting someone’s work acting like you know everything. You have to build that relationship and trust; I’m there to help them, not criticize.
At 22, you’re ahead of the game. What’s your career plan from here?
Like I said, I have my CAWI so I’m one step below the CWI level because I don’t have a full five years of experience yet. My time at TWS counts as time for the CWI, and I had a welding job during school which kind of doubles that time, so I only have about nine months or so until I am eligible to try the CWI exam. I want that CWI certification. From there, the door is really open to anything. As a CWI, I can travel anywhere and inspect different things. Really, my goal is to one day own my own inspection company.
Would you ever want to go and work as a welder?
I really want to be able to do anything! I’m already a good welder. Inspection is great, but I also have a dream that I could go back to welding. I want to keep welding in my back pocket because, who knows, eventually inspection might get boring! So yes, I might want to go back out in the field and actually weld.
You mentioned pipeline welding earlier. Is that still a thought?
It’s not really, no. But I’ve always been fascinated by cars. I’ve always wanted to work for a NASCAR team or something, where we’re building chassis and custom car parts. I always thought would be cool. I’m really good at TIG welding, and you can make a lot of money doing that kind of fabrication for race cars. I’ve always thought that would be awesome to do one day.
I’ve built myself up to where I could do anything if I wanted to. I was able to try inspection because I got lucky and I landed this inspection job, which is obviously almost unheard of for someone my age with not much experience. So, I’m just going to keep rolling with Caliber QC for the next several years, getting more experience, and see where life takes me.
Are you happy with what you’re making financially?
I can’t say how much I’m making because I’d probably get in trouble with my boss! But I’m making really, really good money. I’m definitely in the top 1% of 22-year-olds that are making money nowadays it seems.
What advice do you have for new students to be successful at TWS?
If you show up every day and you grind, you put in the work, it pays off a hundred percent. I went through that school with perfect attendance. I always strived to get the best grades possible. If you’re not there every day, or you miss a couple of days a week, you’re not putting in the work. To make something out of welding as a trade, you have to put in the work. You have to go to it; it won’t come to you. It’s muscle memory. You have to keep welding and welding and welding to train yourself.
Just make the most out of your time at the school; you’ll get out of it what you put in. Make connections, reach out and build relationships with your instructors. Don’t be that quiet kid who won’t ask questions. If you’re struggling, reach out to your instructors, reach out to your classmates. Some of your classmates might have already welded for 10 years. The best thing to do is to rely on other people. If you’re struggling, just seek help; don’t be afraid to say that you’re struggling or ask for help because you’re all there for the same thing. You’re there as one team.
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).