Imagine earning a six-figure salary without the need for college.
That is what Kent Career Tech Center welding instructor Jim Swenson is talking about these days, saying the opportunity is there for his students who will begin learning welding skills this fall.. A full two-year Welding Technology program, complete with a new $1.5 million lab, is ready to launch Aug. 19.
“A recent number from the American Welding Society estimates that 400,000 jobs are going to go unfilled because of a lack of qualified talent nationwide, and that number continues to grow every year by 20,000 to 30,000,” said Swenson, a veteran welder and teacher who was hired from Newaygo County’s Career Tech Center last year. “And Kent County is not immune to that, being the second largest market in the state. It really hits home here.
We’ve already had calls looking for students (to hire) right out of our program. About 85 percent of all gross domestic product is affected by welding. There are a lot of jobs out there ready and available.”
Getting Ready to Roll
Swenson’s excitement stems from the arrival of state-of-the-art equipment this summer for the new lab, just in time for fall classes.
“All the students will have the ability to have well-rounded knowledge that makes them competitive,” Swenson said. “We’re going to give a bigger, well-rounded picture of welding here at the Tech Center.”
And it didn’t take long for every spot to fill for the new school year, according to Duane Kiley, an administrator.
“We have 100 students signed up and a waiting list,” said Kiley with a smile.”
Kiley said funds came from KentISD Career Tech education millage dollars. A $463,000 virtual welding lab, however, was installed last year with the help of a $300,000 state grant.
“This is a great opportunity for students to work with state-of-the-art equipment and gain technical skills they can use to obtain a successful career,” said Kurt Goodman, mechatronics instructor at the Tech Center. “There are jobs available right out of high school or they can receive further training after school to obtain higher level positions.
Grand Rapids Community College offers a Welding Technology program as well, with equipment compatible to the Tech Center’s.
“There are also apprenticeship opportunities available and in demand. Not long ago, these opportunities were very hard to find,” Goodman said.
Working as a welder is certainly not the only option, he said. Career pathways under welding include sales, automation, engineering and inspection, just to name a few.
“And all of these pathways have the potential to be very lucrative careers,” he added.
When all is said and done, the lab will consist of 25 welding booths, each with its own power supply, and capable of running three welding processes within each booth, including some free range sets with special processes. Safety is a top priority.
“Students will learn how to operate every piece of equipment in this lab,” said Swenson, of his five-days-per-week class.
“We want to give students a universal skill set.”
The focus is on project based learning. Students are working from concept to finished product, problem solving and trouble-shooting along the way, said Goodman, who has taught at Montcalm Community College, Montcalm Area Career Center and Mecosta Osceola Career Center.
“Often times, students who struggle in the general academic setting excel when given the opportunity to work in an environment where hands-on learning is the focus of the program.”