Graduate Connections – Shiloh Johnson

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Shiloh, 27, from Pennsylvania, graduated from the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in December 2019.

Thanks for sharing your story, Shiloh. What did you do after high school?

I graduated high school in 2012 and moved down to California, and then on to Texas. I’m from a really tiny town in Pennsylvania, so I wanted to get out and see the world, to see how things really were. I was just working cashier jobs. I had no career path, no idea what I wanted to do.

What made you think about welding last year?  

The story of how I got into welding gets a little raw. In December 2015 I ended an abusive relationship. After that, I shut down for over three years. I didn’t want to do anything; I thought my life was over. I kind of accepted it. Then in early 2019, I saw an ad for Tulsa Welding School. I needed to get out of my room, out of the bad jobs. I wanted a career before I turned 30.

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Had you done any welding before coming to Tulsa?

I did a little welding in high school but honestly, I wasn’t infatuated with the idea when I first went in to welding school. I just thought of it as a career. I was there for the money. But I fell in love with welding from the moment I first struck an arc.

What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?

The teachers helped me believe in myself again, to rebuild my self-confidence. I’ve never had better teachers, ever. They really cared about us; it’s really not like that at any other school. My first instructor, Wes, is the one who taught me to strike an arc, I still keep him updated with what I’m doing. Then there’s another teacher, Balentine. If it wasn’t for Balentine, I might not have got through. He has so much patience with his students. I also made some great friends there, and I’m still in touch with them. We’ve ended up welding all across America. I know where people are working, what they’re making. I have connections all over the place now.

How did you find the program? Ever consider quitting?

Yeah, but you can’t give up! There were so many times I wanted to quit. I have a real problem with self-doubt. That’s always been my worst enemy. I just told myself to shut up and get back to it! The last phase with the bend test, that’s terribly hard. But I powered through it. I still have self-doubt now at my job. They sent me out in the field today for the first time, and I was having the hardest time. I had to tell myself, “Hey, you went to school for this. Knock it off!” I talk to myself all the time when I’m welding!

Where are you working?

I work for RHI Magnesita, the world’s leading producer of refractory products. I started in March. After school finished, my lease was up, so my mom and I did a road trip from Texas to Pennsylvania with my big old Pitbull! I got up here in January and I failed about five weld tests before I came across RHI Magnesita. I tested for Harley Davidson, BAE Systems, a bunch of companies. I was working with a recruiter, but I found RHI through Indeed.com. I do want to mention Marquis Williams in the TWS Career Services team in Houston. He called, emailed and researched over 20 jobs for me when I moved up here. That man is great; he goes above and beyond, and he has become a friend as well.

What are you doing for them?

They hired me as a welder/fabricator so I’m learning a whole new skill. It’s pretty incredible. This week I’ve been fabricating signposts. I started on paper. I took my measurements, sketched out what I wanted to do, and then I went from scrap metal to building my signposts. Now I’ve got them welded up in the bin room. I’ve built some safety rails as well. A lot of what I’ve been doing is patch work because it’s a mining quarry, and stuff gets beaten up.

Were you happy with your first welding paycheck?

The most money I ever made before welding school was $12 an hour, and now I’m making $22 an hour. When they handed me a $2,000 check for two weeks, my eyes lit up! I’m sorry to say I spent it all on my dog, my mom, and food! If I go over 40 hours, I make $33 an hour for the next 12, and then the next 12 is at $44 an hr.

How is it being a woman in a male-dominated environment?

It’s an all-male environment! They’ve never had a girl work there. I have my own locker room. I’m the only one that uses the girls’ room in the maintenance department. They had to order small welding gloves and a female harness. I’m definitely paving the way for the next few women they hire. They were worried that I was going to be scared to get dirty. I’m dirtier than all of them by the end of the day. I just don’t care. I get along with all the guys; I think some of them thought they had to watch their mouths around me, but once they hear me talk, they don’t worry about it!

Where do you see your welding career going?

I really like where I’m at now. I’ve only been here a month or so, so I’ll see how it goes. Welders do tend to get paid higher in this position, but I’m not always welding. A lot of it is just patch work and fabricating. But as a new graduate, I’m grateful to be in a job where I am welding. I’m also working with some really good welders. I see this as more training and I’m picking up the fabrication skill. They are teaching me boom lifts and forklifts. I get to go 60 feet in the air on a boom lift with a safety harness attached and weld in the bucket. It’s wild! This is definitely the sort of place I could stay and progress, and it’s 15 minutes from home. To think where I was this time maybe 15 months ago, it’s crazy!

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

I have so much pride in what I make. I take something from paper and make it real. That for me is awesome. When my hood drops, I’m ready to go; I try to make every weld better than my last.

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

If you don’t like to sweat, don’t do it! You’re going to be drenched in sweat! It’s dirty and hot, and it’s not for everyone. If you don’t mind dirt and sweat, then you’ll be fine. But if you start, you cannot give up. The self-doubt I talked about earlier, I’m sure everyone gets that to some degree. I’m sure most new students will at some point. But you’ve got to keep telling yourself you want to be there. Remind yourself why you came to welding school because it’s going to change your life. It changed mine. Your life will be totally different when you’re welding and getting that welder’s paycheck. It’s a skill for life. I can move anywhere in the world with this skill.

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).