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Regional Welding Training Project Responds to Employer Demand

By Teresa Barch

Posted 6/28/07

Eleven days after students were released for the summer, when classrooms are typically quiet and hallways are empty, the welding lab at Hartford Union High School has sparked back to life. A new group of students, ranging in age from 17 to 53 have enrolled in a grant-funded Welding Boot Camp taught by Moraine Park Technical College-West Bend Campus staff that will enable them to learn a new skill and, at the same time, create a much-needed pipeline of workers for local businesses.

The arrangement will allow the 18 participants to meet for 30 hours each week for six weeks. Those who successfully complete the program will earn a Moraine Park Technical College certificate and 5.45 credits toward a welding program diploma. Based on a pre-program assessment, participants who need assistance with math or other basic skills have access to the Student Success Center located at the Workforce Development Center in Hartford.

After only a few days in the program, the welding students seemed to be embracing the opportunity to learn and having fun doing it. When asked about their experience so far, comments ranged from “good” to “very positive” to “excellent.” The fact that much of the learning is hands-on was especially appealing. Thomas Ferguson III, 33, enrolled to learn a trade that he could use anywhere in the country. He said, “It has been a great experience, especially when it finally starts to come to you and gives you a great sense of accomplishment.”

Instructor Corey McCauley was equally enthusiastic. He said, “This has been a great learning opportunity for the students and very rewarding for me. Most of them have never welded before, so that has given them and me a big challenge to overcome. To this point, all of the students are working very hard to learn and demonstrating basic Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding skills.”

The welding students arrived at the program through various avenues. Some responded to an advertisement in a local newspaper or heard about it at a job fair. Others were referred by potential employers or one of the Workforce Development Centers. The majority of the participants stated that the grant funding was a key factor in their decision to enroll and several said that they would not have been able to afford the training on their own.

Although the time it took to recruit participants, administer an initial assessment and begin the class was only a matter of weeks, the activities and planning that led to the Welding Boot Camp began much earlier. By meeting performance standards in three different Workforce Investment Act programs for the program year that ran from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2006, the state of Wisconsin qualified for a federal incentive grant. The Department of Workforce Development and Wisconsin Technical College System jointly managed the statewide distribution of $640,000 in incentive grant funds to local entities through a request for proposals process.

The Regional Workforce Alliance (RWA) of Southeastern Wisconsin, the talent development arm of the Milwaukee 7 economic development initiative, chose to address the shortage of qualified welders in the seven-county region that includes Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties in its incentive grant application. Many of the employers that supported the proposal, including Tramont Corporation, Manutec, Inc., Bert Jensen & Sons, Inc., and the Wisconsin Precision Metalworking Council, noted that the skilled welder shortage impacts not only individual manufacturers, but also the overall regional economy.

In March 2007 the RWA’s Southeastern Wisconsin Welding Consortium was awarded $125,000 to implement its Career Pathways in Welding/Metal Fabrications Occupations project.
The grant, along with local leveraged resources, will fund a total of four entry-level welding courses throughout the region, including the one at Hartford High School. A similar course will be taught at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee from July 16 through August 23. Milwaukee Area Technical College and Gateway Technical College plan to hold their welding programs prior to June 2008.

Students in the Moraine Park Technical College program share the same goal—a good-paying job that will enable them to support themselves and their families. According to a customized report by Economic Modeling Specialists, the median hourly wage for welders of all experience levels in the seven-county Southeastern Wisconsin region is $15.83. “There is no doubt in my mind that if these students complete this program, they will be very employable,” said McCauley. “Currently, there is a great need for welders in this area and these students will have the skills and knowledge to fill several of these community employment needs. This is truly a win-win for these students and local industries and I am proud to be part of it.”

In addition to the welding training, the project will generate a current and forecasted assessment of occupational demand for welder and metal fabricators in the region. It will also identify the continuum of training opportunities available for individuals to build skills for welding jobs. These two research elements will provide a foundation for better matching skilled workers with available job openings.

Project partners include the Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington Workforce Development Board, the Private Industry Council of Milwaukee County, Inc., the Southeast Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, and the four technical colleges. Shelly Flaten-Moore, RWA Program Consultant, said, “These partners worked collaboratively to develop a regional strategy to educate, train, place, and retain unemployed and underemployed individuals in welding/metal fabrications occupations in response to a critical need by local manufacturers. This welding project is an excellent example of how the Regional Workforce Alliance provides workforce solutions to meet the dynamic needs of businesses in the region.”

Teresa Barch is a planner with Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington (WOW) Workforce Development, Inc. in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

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