Students fired up about welding

"We're going to want to start welding in a circular motion."

After hearing that advice from their instructor, Mark Pier, six members of a welding class in Vermillion got fired up – literally – and made sparks fly.

Sparks fly as a student in Vermillion’s “Welding in Industry” class masters basic techniques taught by instructor Mark Pier. The second 35-hour session of the welding class began earlier this month. (Photo by David Lias)

The class, formally titled "Welding in Industry," is designed to help fill a growing employee demand in the Vermillion area.

Steps had already been taken earlier this year to make the 35-hour adult course a reality, thanks to a joining of forces of the Vermillion School District, the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company, and Masaba Mining Equipment of Vermillion.

The state made local officials aware last month that it could possibly provide some funding to help the local efforts move forward. The city applied in March for CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) revenue toward meeting that goal.

"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 to the city council last month.

In the meantime, local support has enabled the start-up of the workforce training program that focuses on teaching adults basic welding skills.

The welding program itself was implemented earlier this year, with its first section concluding Feb. 28.

Another round of the course began April 10, and is tentatively scheduled to meet from 6:30 to 8 p.m. twice a week through May 24 at Vermillion High School.

"This course is designed for the novice welder or the welder who wants to improve on their skills so that they can go in industry and work," said Pier, who instructs the evening class. During the day, he is the career and technical education teacher at Vermillion High School. "I've got some people here who have never welded before, and I've got some people who do have some welding experience."

The major emphasis of the Welding in Industry class is placed on wire feed (MIG) welding. According to the course description, students will learn different welding positions, weld joints, math skills, cutting and separating as needed in the course, and safety.

One of the ultimate goals is for students to be able to eventually construct a leak-proof box and fulfill other assignments given by Pier.

It's natural, Pier said, for beginning students to experience a bit of anxiety as they operate welders for the very first time.

"Typically, the first-time welder tends to go too fast; they tend to rush, and one of the things that we really have to work on is to get people to slow down," he said. "Whether it be my high school students or this group of students here, we first have to work on getting them to slow down."

Before the "hands-on" portion of the course, where each student fires up a welder to practice techniques instructed by Pier, each participant spends some time in a classroom.

"During the first night of the course (April 10), we went over safety during the classroom portion of instruction," Pier said, "and we covered some of the machines that we'll be using in the course."

The second night of the course, April 12, was dedicated to teaching students about different positions and joints used in welding.

"In future classes, we'll start working on more difficult welds," Pier said. "Tonight, we started with the real easy welds, in the flat position, but in the next couple weeks, we'll start to do the vertical welds and the overhead welds.

"There is also a math component that makes up part of the course, and we have one of our math teachers here at the high school, Nichole Tarr, who teaches that," he said. "We'll also do blueprint reading with welding symbols and drawings that are used in industry, and we also have a couple of activities that we'll do later in the semester to test the students with their welding integrity and things like that."

Participants will receive a certificate signifying that they've completed the coursework in late May. The students will then discover if their welding skills are sufficient when they go out into the workforce.

"If they go out to Masaba, for example, and apply for a welding job, they'll have to take a welding test," Pier said. "That's really where the 'test part' of this course comes into play. They have an individual out there who will have them weld, and will test their welds, and if they meet their standards, they can become employed there."

After this 35-hour session wraps up next month, another course likely will be held at the high school next October.

"The first class we did (this year) was full, and that was during the wintertime," Pier said. "This one we're holding now isn't quite as full, but, of course, it's springtime and people would rather be outside doing stuff rather than inside welding, so we expected the numbers to be down just a little bit this time."

The course was designed with input from Pier, Steve Howe of the VCDC, and personnel from Masaba.

"We sat down and wrote a curriculum for what it is that Masaba needs as far as welders," Pier said. "We've got everything tailored to meet Masaba's needs, but, in reality, a person could go to another industry somewhere and work for them, and take those skills with them."

Howe told the Plain Talk last month that if the CDBG grant sought by the city is approved, the welding program will be expanded for three years of quarterly sessions.

It will also help offset the costs of the course, and make it possible for students who must pay $250 to receive the training to be reimbursed once they get a job.

"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," Howe said.

This course is playing an important role in Vermillion's changing economic landscape, he said.

"Vermillion has not had a tradition of the skilled trades," Howe 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."

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