Welding school receives new spark of energy

 The makeshift nature of the welding school sign at the corner of Ash and Third streets in Hillsboro reflects the recent management transition from Butler Community College to Hutchinson Community College. The city-owned former AMPI building, home for the school, is in the background. Hutchinson Community College recently recognized the Hillsboro Welding Center as one of its south central Kansas locations offering this type of specialized training.

M.L. Stark Hinkle, director of marketing and public information, said the Hillsboro Welding Center was acknowledged as ?Program of the Month? in August.

?HCC began managing the (Hillsboro) welding program in the summer of 2012,? Hinkle said.

Background

Butler Community College started the program in fall 2008 with the help of a $100,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce.

In addition, the city of Hillsboro provided a subsidy of up to $40,000 to make renovations for hosting the program at the city-owned former AMPI building at 405 N. Main St.

According to a Free Press article in July 2012, an official with BCC?s career and technical education said because BCC was in transition, it was decided to allow Hutchinson Com?munity College to manage the Hillsboro site.

Dave Mullins, director of HCC Business and Industry Institute, said they were wanting to reinvigorate the program.

During the interview in 2012, Mullins said it wasn?t necessary to get into the details that prompted the transition, other than to say higher education overall was trying to answer the need for workforce development in the area and particularly welding skills.

Collaboration

One year after taking responsibility of the program, Mullins said the program has a ?great collaboration? behind it.

In addition to the involvement of area industries?including Hillsboro Industries, Circle D, Jost Fabricating, Horseshoe Metal Works and Bradbury, the city of Hillsboro and Kansas WorkforceOne, he also talked about participating high schools.

?Several area high schools?Hillsboro, Marion, Canton-Galva, Peabody, Centre and Herington?are also involved,? he said.

?Another huge factor is that the high school students that are participating are able to take advantage of Senate Bill 155, where the state pays the tuition for high school students enrolled in technical education classes.?

Once someone has successfully completed the program in Hillsboro, Mullins added, they are qualified to be a production welder.

?We have focused our training on the skills needed in this part of the state?metal inert gas pulse welding and metal inert gas welding of aluminum,? he said.

With these foundational skills, Mullins said, the student could also go further with their education into more demanding or specialized fields.

Other benefits

Hinkle said the program focuses on work ethics training and coursework on Occupational Safety and Health Administration, safety and teamwork.

?The students track their time to encourage positive work habits,? Hinkle said, ?and the program will be adding a time clock to the classroom to reinforce the importance of being on time to work and being there every day.?

As a bonus, he said, students with excellent attendance will be able to earn a set of welding tools and a welding helmet and be eligible for an internship recommendation.

Mullins said, ?Several companies in the area have starting wages in the $12 to $13 an hour range.?

Labor demand

In a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, in 2008 there was a nationwide shortage of about 250,000 welders and that number has remained fairly constant.

Factors contributing to the problem is the aging infrastructure and the needs of the energy industry on pipelines.

Mullins said HCC is pleased with the outcome of students passing certification.

?We are proud that 75 percent of our concurrently enrolled high school students last year passed the American Welding Society?s 3G weld, a very challenging vertical weld that demonstrated the proficiency they had attained,? he said.

?We also were able to provide working internships to several of the students, with some of them transitioning directly to full-time jobs upon graduation and completion of the program.?

Current enrollment

According to Mullins, a wide range of students participate in the welding program.

Those enrolling can range from high school students through concurrent enrollment, to job seekers looking to retrain or gain new skills.

?The program consists of 14 college credits and lasts from August through May,? he said.

The welding instructor, Steve Swartz, is one of the full-time Business and Industry Institute faculty members at HCC.

?We would like to be able to start a second morning section that would run from 9:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday,? Swartz said. ?If we get enough demand, we would like to start it by mid-September.?

For more information or to enroll, call Mullins at 620-728-8123.

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