Allan, 40, originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, graduated the seven-month Welding Specialist program at RSI in November 2021.
Thanks for sharing your story, Allan. How long have you been in Arizona?
My family moved to Mesa when I was three or four years old, so I’m basically a native! I live in Gilbert.
What brought you to welding school in your late 30s?
I did five years in prison. One of my prison jobs was welding. When I got out and couldn’t find a job, I figured might as well do something that I liked. I had limited welding knowledge, not enough to get a job. So, I started looking at welding schools.
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What made you choose RSI for your welding training?
I actually went to RSI back in 2008, maybe 2009. I went through the HVAC program. Somebody told me that RSI now has the welding program, and it was the closest welding school to me.
Did you use your HVAC education. Did you work in the HVAC field?
I didn’t. Honestly, I graduated, but I was into other things at the time. I didn’t go anywhere with it. I think I worked for a couple of months, but you know, I was younger and stupid!
Did you get out of prison last year?
I did: 2021. I did some warehouse jobs when I got out to get some money, but I think I was enrolled in RSI within the first six months of getting out.
Other than having welded a little in prison, what attracted you to it?
Honestly, what attracted me was the fabrication end of it more than the actual welding. Just building things. We built trailers and fixed a lot of things at the prison. It was cool to me to be able to look at something and say, “I built that!”
How did you find the welding program compared to the HVAC program?
The welding program was much less technical, much less homework. With HVAC, you really had to study when you weren’t at school. But with welding, you can watch videos, but you can’t really study. It’s all about practice for the four or five hours that you were there every day. Unless you have a welding machine at home and can practice there!
What did you enjoy most about your time at RSI?
It was the hands-on time. You’re in the welding lab on the second day of class. They give you some demos and just say, “Here, go figure it out.” I know that’s probably not for everybody, but for me, I really enjoyed the freedom of being able to figure it out. They were there for you to ask questions and help out, but you’ve got to do it yourself and figure it out. That was enjoyable for me.
Do you like the idea of working on your own then?
I can work solo or as part of a team. I’m currently working with just one other gentleman. We mostly build shades, gates and fencing, things like that. I do the welding and he does a lot of the mock-up of things, the nuts and bolts. So, we do work as a team and I like that, but I do like being under the hood as well.
So, let’s talk about that. Who are you working for?
It’s called Integrity Metal Works in Mesa. It’s a small company.
How did you find the job?
Ashley in RSI Career Services gave me the number. She was awesome. I was looking for a TIG welding job, which is harder to find and more money. I was working with Ashley for months because for each job you do the interview, then a weld test, and then they send your info through a background check. I got so much stuff on my background that it takes a month, maybe a month and a half sometimes.
So, it’s not TIG welding, but are you happy with this job?
I’m happy where I’m at. It’s MIG welding, but we’re out in the field the whole time. We get to do different stuff every day. I’m not making quite as much money as I might doing TIG, but that’s okay. I’m enjoying every day and that’s almost more important to me at this point.
Are you happy with what you’re making starting out?
Oh, yeah. The only way is up!
What do you enjoy most about this trade?
It’s just building things with my hands. I like the satisfaction of giving somebody what they want, whether it’s as simple as a gate or a shade or something like that. Building it myself, and then being happy with it.
Do you enjoy welding more than you thought you would when you started?
It was a challenge when I began. I’ve learned a lot and got a hundred times better, but it’s still challenging and that’s what I like about it.
Did you have days at welding school when you thought, “What am I doing here?”
Absolutely. You’ve just got to power through. You’re there for a reason. You’re there to learn and what the teachers there will tell you is true, it’s practice, practice, practice. It’s not something that you can shortcut and get good at.
What’s your career plan from here?
My goal is to take my boss’s lead and start my own metal fabrication business or LLC. I’m just learning what I can from him about the business end of it, and hopefully one day I’ll have my own crew that I can go out and do this with.
Doing the same kind of local work? Or traveling welding?
I’ve got a six-year-old and an eight-month-old. I can’t go anywhere!
Did you make some lasting connections, people you’ll stay in touch with?
Yes, I did. I’ve lost touch with most of them over the month since I started working, but I still have some numbers. Being the older guy in the class made it a little tougher because there are a lot of younger 19- to 25-year-olds, but I met some cool people.
What advice do you have for new students thinking about welding at RSI?
Go. Do it. Utilize the time in the welding lab. Like I said, there are no shortcuts and the only way that you’re going to get better is to spend time welding. Don’t leave early. Stay late if you can. Do your studying outside of school with the Friday classes that they do via Zoom. Just apply yourself and don’t miss days.
If you’re an RSI graduate and would like to share your success story 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), and program.