City seeking funds to expand local welding training

The city is applying for a community development block grant that will help in part to expand a workforce training program that teaches adults basic welding skills.

Action was taken to apply for the grant at the regular Vermillion City Council meeting Monday night.

The grant was brought to the attention of the city by the South Eastern Council of Governments (SECOG).

"What the governor is trying to do is get more educated workers in the state, and so this is kind of a statewide effort to get more training programs," SECOG planner Janice Gravning explained at the meeting.

The welding program itself was implemented earlier this year, with its first section concluding Feb. 28. It is a partnership between the Vermillion Area Chamber & Development Company (VCDC), the Vermillion School District and Masaba Mining, Inc.

If the grant is approved, the program will be expanded for three years of quarterly sessions.

"If it's approved, the grant will allow us to not only expand the number of students we could teach, but also upgrade the equipment so that the students are learning on equipment that's close to what the employers are using in their shops," Steve Howe, VCDC's executive director, said in an interview Tuesday with the Vermillion Plain Talk.

The grant also will help to offset the cost for the instructor, Mark Pier of the Vermillion School District.

"That way we will be able to get if offered at a lower rate for the students," Howe said. "Right now we charge them $250, and then when they get a job the VCDC reimburses that. …

"We want to be able to provide the tuition at no cost. We will continue to offer the class at a charge to make sure that people are taking it seriously, but we want to be able to reimburse them for their tuition and still pay the instructor," he said.

The grant must be applied for by the city, which will then give funds to the VCDC if they are awarded, Gravning explained.

Howe said the class is six weeks and 35 hours of actual coursework. The first round of classes had a total of 10 students – eight adults and two high-schoolers.

Its purpose is to provide the students with the basic skills they need "to get their foot in the door with an employer," he said.

"It's not going to provide them with any extensive certification, but it's giving them the basic skills that they need to be taken seriously be a potential employer, and hopefully give them enough of a background that the employer will invest in them to do some on-the-job training," Howe said.

When the students conclude their coursework they can then go out to potential employers, such as Masaba, and take a welding test.

"We haven't gotten the feedback on how they did with some of that employer testing, so once we get that … we'll be able to find out what the status of those students was," Howe said. "If we have to revamp the class, we will do that."

A course such as this one plays an important role in Vermillion's changing economic landscape, Howe said.

"Vermillion has not had a tradition of the skilled trades," he said. "As we are recruiting these businesses and helping the existing ones grow, we're at a disadvantage with our workforce. We just don't have the skilled trades-people necessary to meet their needs."

Howe added that it's heartening to see different groups working together to help meet those needs.

"It means that this community is taking an active role in getting the workforce that they need so they can continue to grow in Vermillion," he said. "It's a real positive when we have these different entities working together to do this."

The city should hear within 30 to 45 days of applying whether it will receive the grant, Howe said.

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