Tolu Atakenu, aged 29, moved to Montana from Nigeria in 2011. After three years working in health care as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Tolu decided he wanted to change direction and enrolled at Tulsa Welding School. He graduated from the Professional Welder program in March 2015.
Thank you for sharing your story Tolu; health care to welding, that’s quite the career change.
It was a drastic change! I worked in a hospital in Montana and was very close to a patient who was a welder before he retired. He used to have his own welding shop; he would tell me all about welding and how much welders make. He said that because I was a hard worker and physically fit, I might like it.
I like to be given a task and get it done rather than rely on others. I’m that kind of person, so I grew more interested in what he was telling me. When he told me about Tulsa, and that it only takes seven months to become a professional welder, I thought “seven months, that’s not bad…”
Not long after our conversation I heard a commercial on the radio for Tulsa Welding School, and I thought “Wow, that’s the school he was talking about.” I took down the telephone number and spoke with Sean, who would become my advisor. After several conversations I quit my job and left Montana for Oklahoma.
Did you know anyone in OK?
No, it was a completely fresh start. I didn’t know anyone; no family, no friends. I spent the first month living in a hotel.
What was the favorite part about the TWS program, and why?
The amount of hands-on practice we got allowed me to believe that I could make a living working with my hands, because I wasn’t really like that before. I had no thought at all of becoming a welder before I met that gentleman in the hospital. I like the fact that when I weld, it’s right. It’s down to me.
How long did it take you to get a job after graduating?
After graduation I went back to Montana and got a welding job over there. But after a few months I got laid off; the company lost the project I was working on. There aren’t too many welding opportunities in Montana, so I came back to Oklahoma as there are more opportunities for welders here.
Where are you working now?
I started work for JV Industrial Companies in September; Tulsa Welding School actually sent me over there. Right now I’m not welding for them; I’m tacking, as that was the only position available at that point, but they’ve promised me a welding test in a month or so. I took the position because I needed a job and it’s a very big company, so once I pass a weld test I can work for them all over the country.
That first paycheck, were you happy with the money?
Yes, yes…I didn’t do anything special with it. Just took care of the bills, you know…
Where do you want to be in three years?
I would like to set up my rig. I’ve met quite a few people out in the field; so I hope that in three years I’ll have the experience and connections to be welding big jobs out in the field. I see a very bright future. I see myself working in North Dakota if that picks back up, or out in California working at a big refinery. I know that’s what’s going to happen; that’s how you make the big money – sub-contracting.
What’s your favorite aspect of your new trade?
My favorite part is that I’m able to make something. I like building stuff. After doing a weld, I like to step back and look at what I’ve done. When I weld right, it’s very satisfying. If I weld something right, it gives me a lot of joy.
Did you make some good connections at school?
Yes, I made a couple of good friends. I’m very close to one who called me about a job. But outside of school, I’ve also made some good connections since I graduated.
What do you do for fun?
I work 60 hours a week, so I don’t have a lot of time but I just like to hang out with friends. We watch movies, go out to eat, and all that. My wife Christy is back in Montana, so I go back there when I can.
If you were a millionaire for a day, what would you do?
Oh wow…I think I’d put $900k into a welding business. I’d take care of family, but I’d also buy some really nice clothes and shoes. I love nice shoes!
A man who likes his clothes! Most guys I speak to say they’d buy a big truck or motorcycle.
Of course I’d get a really nice truck, but I’d calculate that as part of my business cost!
What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?
To make every minute count in Tulsa Welding School, take advantage of the opportunity, the instructors’ knowledge, and the practice time.
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).