Graduate Connections – Meet Carlos Lopez

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Carlos, 41, from Phoenix, Arizona, graduated the seven-month Welding Specialist training program at RSI in October 2022.

Thanks for sharing your story, Carlos. What did you do before you came to RSI?

I did stucco since 2001, but to be honest, I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you that I just got out of prison in February after four years. The reason I joined RSI was to have a better future, you know? I was just tired of working jobs that didn’t do anything for me. I overcame a lot, you know? And right now, completing this RSI welding program was the first positive thing I’ve done in my life.

Good for you for turning a corner. Why did you give up the stucco?

You know, stucco is way different that welding. Stucco is harder work! The money wasn’t all that that great either. Not like welders get paid right now.

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Where did the idea of welding come from? Did you have welding experience?

No, I’d never picked up a welding tool in my life. But I read a lot of books about welding in prison. They have careers people to help you. I read a lot of books about all the trades, like carpentry. But the money that welders make was just like crazy to me. It wasn’t just the money; the whole thing sounded crazy to me when I read about it. Fusing metal together, bending it. What I see the experienced guys do with metal where I work now is just crazy, I’m watching them and learning 24/7.

What did you enjoy most at your experience at RSI?

Learning to weld was hard, but I learned it. I didn’t know anything about welding when I went in, but the teachers and the people who work there are just awesome. I felt trust in there. It’s hard for me to find people to trust. I felt trust and I gave them my 100% trust. It was just awesome experience.


Did you have frustrations?

Yeah, there were. The instructors would push me because I’d get mad. I get mad because I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know how to start a stick! So, I’d get mad, and they’d watch me and would just tell me to be patient, you know? They worked with me to the end. I’m always going to remember that. I give them so much credit.

Did you have days when you thought about quitting?

Yes. I sometimes did. I remember one time I was thinking about just giving up, going back to what I’d been doing. The teachers just took me outside and I told them the truth. They told me to keep pushing, to not give up. If it wasn’t for those two guys telling me not to give up, to keep pushing, I probably would not have completed my welding program. They gave me that extra push that I needed.

You pushed through and it came together. Well done.

I think it was my last week at RSI that it hit me. Everything just hit me at once, getting a job and then graduating. I’d completed everything and it just hit me. I started tearing up. I mean, I started crying. I’d never felt that before until I completed that program. It was just overwhelming.

Congratulations; talk to us about getting your job.

I got a job with Schuff Steel during my last two weeks of school. I started two weeks ago and I’m learning from the old timers there. I’m an apprentice, a helper right now. I’m learning how to use their machines and how to work on their material because it’s different from school.  They’ve got me practicing at lunchtime to do their weld test. They said that after 90 days I can take the first weld test. 

That’s great. How did you get the job?

I went over to talk to the Career Services team at RSI, and they told me to put an application in. I waited for two weeks, and then RSI told me to go over there in person. I did, and two days later I did the drug test and Schuff called me and said, “Hey, you want to start working?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s go! Get me in!” I just wanted my foot in the door, you know?

You’ve started as a helper, but are you happy with the money potential?

Yeah. As an apprentice I’m already making more than I was doing stucco. I can definitely make more money than I was before. I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not even worried about the struggle anymore. I know I’m going to be okay now with this company where I’m at now, and with this career. I’m confident everything is going to be okay now.


What’s your career plan?

My goal right now is to build my experience with Schuff Steel for a few years, but I’m thinking about getting into pipe welding. You know, working on oil rigs or pipelines. Maybe over there in Houston. And honestly, I liked the pipe welding experience I got in RSI. My youngest is 15, and she’s talking about going into the service. When that happens, then I can focus on going for my career and traveling.

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

The art, to be honest. The art that comes with it. You can do a lot of stuff welding. I’d like to get myself a welder and practice at home, start making some stuff. That’s what I really want to do.

Did you make some lasting connections, people you’ll stay in touch with?

We’re still in contact. One of my friends went to Seattle, Washington, to go pipe welding up there. He said that if I ever want to go up there, just to give him a call! I told him that could be my first stop in a couple of years.

At 41, were you the oldest in your class?

I was surprised. There are actually a few guys around my age at RSI right now. I thought I was going to be the oldest one there, but no. There’s a lot of guys working on getting new careers now, they’re just fed up with what they’re doing. One guy was 44 and had worked at Costco for 15 years, and he just started welding! I think that’s pretty cool.

What advice do you have for new students thinking about coming to RSI?

Do not give up. Keep pushing and be patient with yourself while learning your new trade.

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. 

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