“We’ve had a welding program at Butler for several years, and it’s been successful,” said Gene George, interim dean of career and technical education at BCC. “The program at Butler is in transition right now and we felt that Hutch Community College would do a better job of managing the Hillsboro site.”
David Mullins, HCC’s director of business and industry, s
aid, “We’re just trying to reinvigorate the program. It’s better not to get into the details of why the transition, other than to say that higher education overall is trying to answer the need for workforce development in the area, particularly welding skills.”
The transition comes as good news to Phil Wyssenbach, president of Hillsboro Industries and a member of a local industrial advisory board comprised of representatives from area manufacturing companies.
“Butler had ceased operation (at the center) last year, so we have taken steps to see that it gets started up again under Hutch,” he said. “I have a good relationship with Dr. Ed Berger, president at Hutch, and I asked his people if they would be able and willing to accept responsibility for the Hillsboro facility.
“They jumped all over it.”
BCC opened the school in fall 2008 with the help of a $100,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce and a subsidy of up to $40,000 from the City of Hillsboro to make renovations for hosting the program at the city-owned former AMPI building.
Neither George nor Mullins could site specific enrollment figures for the ensuing years, but local leaders believe the last welding class was offered back in spring 2011.
“The numbers weren’t what we expected them to be, and the economy certainly didn’t help,” George said.
Mullins said HCC intends to change that trend.
“I just know they’ve struggled,” he said about the program’s enrollment record. “It’s a small community in total to draw from. But we’re hoping to do some things with maybe a little bit more flexibility built in, and try to serve both adult students and possibly students from the area high schools to try to come up with a combination that would make a viable entity.”
Need for welders
Wyssenbach said his company, which manufactures trailers and truck beds, reduced its workforce by about one third after the recession hit a few years ago. Thanks in part to a strong farm and ranch economy, the company workforce is back to pre-recession numbers.
“We have about doubled our backlog (of orders),” he said. “So that tells you we still need more people. I wouldn’t say we need a lot more people right now, but if the backlog continues to not be reduced, we’re going to have to add more.”
Mullins said the need for more welders is a statewide issue. “In general I think most folks are hoping we get enough (students at the Hillsboro center) to get folks trained for the jobs that are available in the area.”
Mullin said HCC is trying to launch its first class July 9, but as of the weekend the school was still two or three students short of justifying it financially.
Potential students can still enroll this week by calling 620-728-8123.
If the summer class does not get off the ground, HCC will try again this fall. As part of the arrangement between the two institutions, HCC will be using the training equipment Butler had acquired for the program through institutional funding and grant money.
Companies as customers
Wyssenbach said involving more area manufacturers on the local advisory board should bolster the program.
“What we’re trying to do is have (the center) have more industrial input and oversight, and put a little more responsibility not only on the school but basically on the customer—and that’s industry,” he said.
“I really have to say I see a lot of energy,” he added. “I’m enthused, but after the last three or four years, you’ve got to maintain a sense of holding back.”