Graduate Connections – Meet Chaytahn Kelsey

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Chaytahn, 33, originally from St. George, Utah, now calls Mesa, Arizona, home. Chaytahn graduated the seven-month Welding Specialist program at RSI in early June 2022.

Thanks for sharing your story, Chaytahn. What did you do after high school before you came to RSI?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was just doing dead-end jobs. I dabbled with construction for a while, but you could say welding is a family trade. I’m a third-generation welder. My grandfather was a pipe welder, my father was a pipe welder, and so are my uncles. I think that’s why I avoided it when I was younger. The opportunity for welding was always there, but I didn’t really jump on it until last year.

What brought you to that point last year, at the age of 32?

I’m in recovery. All that partying and not doing anything with my life really put me in downward spiral. I saw welding as a way to get myself out of that before I ended up in prison, in the hospital, or worse.

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Tell us more about that path. It might help others.

I was in a Native American rehabilitation company’s recovery program for about 10 months in Phoenix. For the duration, they offered me employment as a behavioral health technician for their company. So I started the program, and I started at RSI while working and living there. It was good for a while, but just the juggle of trying to do all that was hard. Working in my recovery environment and living there and going to school; it wasn’t a good combo for me. It wasn’t good of a place to be, so I left. I stuck with the program and followed the path, but I had to change my environment. 

Thanks for sharing that. With your welding family background, had you welded before RSI?

I did a little welding outside of high school, in between jobs here and there. Sometimes a welder would ask me to tack a little or run a bead, really just messing around on a job site. I got close to it. I did pipe fitting for a while, so that was like a step below. I just never really got into welding until recently.

What did you enjoy most about your time at RSI?

When I look back, I enjoyed the hustle and bustle, the challenge. I had the determination, the perseverance to overcome the adversity I had to face, whether it be holding a job down or not having a vehicle. Overcoming things that could discourage somebody and have them say, “I don’t want to do it anymore.”

I also enjoyed that I had the determination put the time and effort in to learn a new trade because you’re going to be bad at first. I was bad and I’m still learning. Every day is a new learning process. But I enjoy it and I love the challenge. I think for me, my time at RSI really humbled myself. It made me realize there’s not just one thing, one aptitude you can master. There are multiple levels in welding, and if you can master it, it can take you to places you wouldn’t ever think about.

What made you choose RSI for welding in Phoenix?

My youngest brother. He’s a recent RSI welding graduate. He went through the program before me in 2020. He motivated me to go to RSI. He’s a pipe welder too here in Arizona now. There were days that he’d stop by school. RSI has this program that when you graduate, you can come back whenever you want to practice, or to brush up for a weld test. So, he would come to the shop and do some demonstrations for me. If I had questions, I’d ask him, and he’d show me what I was doing wrong, things like that. It was really good.

That’s cool. It really is a family trade! How were the welding instructors?

They were awesome. They taught me what works, what doesn’t, the different techniques. I just picked their brains, taking in their ways of welding and forming that into what works for me in whatever I’m doing.

Did you ever get frustrated on the program?

Oh, yeah. Definitely. There were days when I wanted to throw my stinger across the booth! But I’d take a breather and remind myself that it’s just part of the whole process of learning something new. You’re not going to master it or be the greatest the first time. Just go back in there and do it again. Figure out what you’re doing wrong. Ask questions and go with what works from there.

Where are you working now?

I’m working at Skyline Steel in Gilbert. I’m MIG welding. I do a lot of structural work, columns, structural fittings, I-beams, pipe.

Congratulations. How did you find the job?

Ashley and Ashanti in Career Services helped me with my résumé, and Skyline Steel came to a job fair they organized back in February or March, months before I graduated. Skyline came in. We talked, and they told me to come in for a weld test, which I passed. I took the job and worked with them and the school on my schedule. Things just kind of worked out! I switched from afternoons to the night class at school. I got the morning shift at work, finished around 2:00 p.m., then got the bus from Gilbert to the RSI campus in Phoenix.

Did you ever consider quitting school before finishing the program as you had gotten a job?

No, that was never an option. I was always going to see it through. I mean, I still go to the campus to practice even though I graduated a month ago. They just had a weld competition over the weekend. It was fun! I won a new welding hood, a gift certificate for a band (bands go onto your hood) and a cap!

Congratulations again! Are you enjoying the job?

Hey, we’ve all got to pay our dues, right? So, your first job is never likely to be your dream job. It’s never going to be like, “Oh, I got the best pay” or “Oh, I got the best boss!” No, it’s not going to be like that. But I’m dealing with it. It’s all a learning process! I’ll give it a couple more months there and see if something else comes up. I want to get my stick game going, to be a little more proficient in that process. I’d like to utilize the pipe coupons at school and practice more on that too.

It all adds to your résumé! What’s your career plan from here?

There are some personal things I still have to handle, but once that’s dealt with, I want to start welding with my brother on different jobs in the pipe welding industry. The plan for 2023 is to be road buddies, partner up. We’ll hit shutdowns next year and go where the money is for a while. The plan is to do that for a little bit, and then look into going into the union. We’ll go from there.

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

You know, I didn’t really think about that until today. I was on my way to work and thought, “Wow, I’m actually a welder!” I was just looking at my feed of welding things I follow. So, looking at my job title when I clocked in, it hit me, “Welder”. I remember sitting in an alcohol rehab center three years ago and thinking, “I don’t know how I’m going to get there. I don’t know how I’m going to make it happen, but I know I want to do that.” And I made it happen. I mean, yes, I’m starting at the bottom, but like I said, we’ve all got to work our way up. It’s that achievement I enjoy the most. The fact I am where I am today.

Do you have any regrets that you didn’t do this 15 years ago?

No. I’d like to think of it as I had to go through those life experiences in order for me to have my head in the right place. Now that I have ventured out into the real world with this new career, I know how to handle certain things that happen, whether it be at work or in my personal life

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

Yeah, definitely some instructors, and some friends that I made going to school there.

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

You’ve got to have that go-getter attitude, that mentality of “I want to go get it.” You also have to go in accepting that you will fail at times. Learn to have accept failure because learning something new is not going to come easy. You’re on a time clock. That pressure of a five-week phase to learn this, this, and this. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but you have that pressure of needing to get it down. Outside of school you have your real-life problems. How bad do you really want a new career, a new life? How much time and effort are you willing to put into it? I didn’t want it enough when I was younger. My family is why I stayed away from welding. Then, years later, I realized welding is that outlet. I said I’ll go into it when I’m ready, and I am ready, so I did it and the possibilities are endless from here.

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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