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Sorting out a shortage

A welding industry leader and a tech school partner together on a program to infuse more welders into the workforce

It’s barely an afterthought anymore: The traditional post-high school path leads directly to college. Nearly 70 percent of high school graduates enroll in a two- or four-year college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This, in part, is what has led to a skilled labor shortage throughout the country – that and the mass exodus of baby boomers from the job world.

While it has become cliché to say, “college isn’t for everyone,” employment opportunities for people who thrive in areas outside of academics do exist. In fact, Colorado legislators passed a bill that went into effect last month that mandates public schools inform students that not all post-secondary paths lead to college. School counselors must also inform students about jobs as skilled laborers and opportunities available to them in the military.

The skilled labor shortage isn’t unique to Colorado – it’s affecting the entire country. Portland, Ore., which is in the midst of a construction boon, is also affected by a “chronic labor shortage.” One construction official estimates that contractors need an additional 800 carpenters and 800 electricians to keep up with the construction. On the other side of the country in New York City, 61 percent of construction firms report they are having a difficult time finding workers.

The Associated General Contractors of America offers a more grim outlook,  with 69 percent of U.S. firms reporting they are having difficulty filling hourly craft positions.

For the manufacturing industry, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2014 and 2024, it will need to fill 128,000 positions, which includes welders. Welders are going to be working overtime for a while.

weld training
Welding instructors at UTI-Rancho Cucamonga train students on industry equipment like this Lincoln Electric high-frequency TIG welder.

Two unite

Recently, the Universal Technical Institute (UTI), which has 12 campuses throughout the country, announced its efforts to help meet the need for current welding professionals. The school collaborated with The Lincoln Electric Co. to establish a welding technology program at UTI’s Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., campus.

The 36-week program aims to train students for certification from the American Welding Society, and the California Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education has put its stamp of approval on the program. Additionally, it has received accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

Courses include a focus on GMAW and SMAW, pipe welding, principles of welding, safety and more.

This is the first of multiple campuses that are slated to launch similar welding programs. The UTI campus in Avondale, Ariz., also is planning to roll out a welding program in early 2018. Students will be exposed to an industry-aligned training curriculum that puts them on the path to a promising career.

UTI is headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., and provides postsecondary education for students seeking careers in automotive, diesel and collision repair as well as well as training for motorcycle and marine technicians. Over its half-century history, UTI has had 200,000 graduates pass through its doors.

Lincoln Electric’s role in this new welding program follows up on more than a century of education commitments for welders. Jason Scales, manager of educational services at Lincoln, said in a recent news release that with the critical shortage of welders today, “we accelerated our efforts to provide educators at every level with skills and knowledge that employers demand. We are excited to offer the UTI team our products, services and expertise to help develop an outstanding welding education program.”

Lincoln Electric was heavily involved in creating the program and has outfitted the school with state-of-the-art welding equipment for the students to use.

welding tutorial
Hands-on tutorials teach students in high-tech industry labs all about proper rod angles.

Expert training

Edward Lopez, an instructor in the welding program at UTI at Rancho Cucamonga has had a successful career since graduating high school 12 years ago. He’s on board as one of the first three instructors for the program, the first classes of which began in early July. New classes, which will include a maximum of 24 students per cohort, begin every six weeks. A total of six instructors are planned as the program expands.

Lopez says students coming into the program are not required to have any prior training, just a high school diploma or equivalent.

“The majority of our students are fresh out of high school,” he says, “so they have absolutely no experience.”

Rick Compton, education manager at UTI, says the welding program is entry level, and geared toward someone with no background in welding and who has never touched a welder.

“Not everybody wants to go to college to be a doctor or a lawyer,” he says of UTI’s typical student. “Students that struggled in high school a little bit tend to be hands-on learners. They need to see it. A lot of times, those are the students that excel in our programs.”

Other details

The classes focus more on the lab than the classroom setting. The program costs $19,000. Fortunately, UTI is a Title IV school and students can receive financial aid just as they would at a community college or a four-year university. Furthermore, scholarships are available through UTI’s TechForce Foundation, which is supported by industry donations.

welding student
A welding student perfects precision skills while practicing on the plasma cutter.

“Pretty much anyone who wants to come to this school can attend,” Compton says.

And the first topic any student will tackle is safety.

“When you’re out in the field,” Lopez notes, “safety is a big priority, not just for yourself but for everyone around you. We try to focus on good safety fundamentals, so when you’re out there, you’re using the right practices.”

Another advantage for UTI students is that the school already partners with many big automobile companies, such as Mercedes, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and BMW, where they provide training specific to those companies. Therefore, the placement rate in those companies is extremely high for students that become certified.

“Welding is going to be the same way,” Compton says. “We’re in the process of building those relationships right now. We’ve got several large companies looking at our campuses.”

The Lincoln Electric Co.

Universal Technical Institute

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