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Charles Stewart, assistant professor of manufacturing at Owens Community College in Ohio, demonstrates torch cutting to students.
Even in the current sluggish economy, businesses continue to scramble for skilled welders—and community colleges are expanding and developing new programs to meet the demand.
At Wallace State Community College in Alabama, enrollment in the welding program has doubled since 2007, renovations are underway to accommodate more students and graduates are finding jobs.
“In my 15 years at Wallace State, every graduate who has wanted a job has gotten a job,” said welding instructor Jim Thompson. “A good, skilled welder can get a job anywhere.”
This summer, Owens Community College in Ohio opened a new $1.1-million Welding Design Center that allows the college to more than double degree and certificate opportunities for students. The facility includes two experimental learning classrooms with 60 welding booths, 12 cutting booths and eight grinding stations.
“The need for highly skilled welding professionals is greater than ever before,” said Jim Gilmore, chair of the college’s manufacturing and industrial operations programs.
Randolph Community College (RCC) in North Carolina also opened a new welding center last year with the help of a grant from Duke Energy. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony last summer, RCC President Robert Shackleford said the center was needed to serve a growing number of students. Over the past three years, nearly 200 students have enrolled in the college’s welding program.
Businesses in the college’s service area continue to seek skilled welders, Shackleford said, noting a large sign at a business near the college that read “Hiring welders.”
“Even in this economy, this is a great option for students,” he said.
Community colleges are also using mobile stations to train welders, particularly in rural areas. In Montana, Flathead Valley Community College teamed with Stinger Welding, Inc. to use a tractor trailer equipped with 10 welding stations to train workers for a new company plant.
Pitt Community College in North Carolina also used its mobile welding lab to train and certify employees of Mestek, Inc., which manufactures heaters, rooftop furnaces and central air conditioning/heat pump systems. Last summer, PCC welding instructors taught welding courses to 13 Mestek employees, many of whom had never received formal welding training.
A major push
Last summer, the National Center for Welding Education and Training—known as Weld-Ed and housed at Lorain County Community College in Ohio—received a $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to meet industry workforce needs, from training more welders to developing curricula and using cutting-edge techniques.
The industry needs about 30,000 new welders annually to produce 238,000 new and replacement workers through 2019, according to Weld-Ed. To do that, the industry and training facilities such as community colleges must adapt to changing technology and increasingly specialized fields, said Duncan Estep, director of the center.
“As the welding and materials-joining industries continue to evolve and become progressively technical, so too must the caliber of training welding technicians,” he said.
Weld-Ed will use part of its three-year grant to share expertise, curricula and coursework among community colleges, universities and K-12 districts across the country. In addition, it will use the funds to expand professional development for welding faculty in new technologies, such as blending learning, virtual simulation and emerging welding processes.
Helping the low-skilled
Although there is increased demand for high-end, specialized welders, there is plenty of opportunity for more general welding. With such demand for welders, some colleges are working to prepare low-income adults and people lacking basic skills to get them up to speed to land those jobs.
In Wisconsin, the technical college system has developed an initiative that helps adults build skills in welding and other in-demand professions a little bit at a time by infusing basic education with skills training. Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC) last spring initiated its basic welding certificate program with a team-teaching approach in which the basic skills instructor works closely with the welding instructor.
“The six-credit credential is the beginning point,” said Marcia Arndt, dean of manufacturing at the college. “The idea is that the students will come back and continue their education for more certificates, a diploma or even an apprenticeship.”
Of the 12 students who enrolled in the MPTC program last spring, 10 earned a welding certificate, two had completed at least one course and two enrolled in a welding diploma program. Three months after earning their certificates, eight of the students had welding jobs earning an average of $1,403 a month.
Copyright ©2014 American Association of Community Colleges