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Training & Education

Well-grounded welders

By Gretchen Salois

Students learn work ethic is as essential as talent

September 2012 - Many of today’s high school students look toward the future with uncertainty. The expectation to attend college is stilted as many college graduates find themselves with no job prospects and mounting student loan debt. Despite job openings, there remains a stigma associated with a career in welding. Educators in Alaska are working to dispel that sentiment as they prepare tomorrow’s welding professionals.

In one of many states promoting the welding industry, educators at AVTEC-Alaska’s Institute of Technology, with campuses in Seward and Anchorage, offer extensive welding courses for those interested in becoming certified welders. Students take a 36-week course and after meeting some requirements are tested to become AWS-certified welders.

"Students don’t get exposed to welding in high school anymore so we start students with the basics: safety, oxy-fuel cutting and brazing,” says Kent Berklund, department head of the schools Department of Applied Technology. Students complete oxy-fuel cuts and welds, then work hard on SMAW to gain that certification during the first 20 weeks of instruction. The program previously taught D1.1 3/8-in. plate but more recently has switched to 1-in. unlimited thicknesses, per the AWS procedure.

“We used to offer unlimited thickness as an option, but found more and more employers wanted this certification, so now it’s mandatory,” Berklund says. Students are tested by an independent agency. “We know if they pass, they can work anywhere in the country,” he adds.

Working with Alaska Industrial X-ray, Anchorage, students travel to the company’s facilities with their prepped plates and protective gear. “To prep students for certification testing, we have them [complete] repeat welding and bend tests until they have the skills to produce clean welds repeatedly,” Berklund says. “Once they are certified, we move them onto TIG and MIG welds as well as cast iron, aluminum and plasma cutting.” Particularly talented students can test their skills at CNC cutting, gaining early exposure to advanced technology.

Collaborative effort
To pass the course at AVTEC, students must meet strict attendance and academic guidelines. Students are required to attend a minimum of 95 percent of classes as well as excel in homework and classwork assignments. “Only 70 percent of structural welding students graduate to go on to pipe welding,” Berklund says, adding that due to size and equipment limitations, competition is tight—only 10 spots are available.

Students receive math training for welding applications and take non-destructive testing as a requirement. “We bring in a consultant to go over what NDT is: magnetic flux, radiography, ultrasound testing—it gives students another venue to look to for different employment opportunities,” he says. “They understand the testing better, and we think it makes them better welders.”

The program boasts nearly 100 percent job placement for students who finish the course. The strict course rules are meant to prepare students to be successful in the workforce. “Our industry wants people that will be at work, on time and every day.” Berklund says. “Students can’t expect to show up when they want to and expect to have a job.

“The kids coming out of high school are not really prepared with the basic skills needed to not only attain, but hold a job,” he continues. Berklund says those who apply themselves find jobs ranging from $20 an hour to $34 an hour.

“Our graduates are going into unions, becoming plumbers, pipe fitters working for local companies around [in Alaska] and throughout the country,” Berklund says. The program recently applied for a grant for submerged arc welding, a skill-set that’s more and more in demand in today’s industry. “If we get that grant, that will get us about $30,000 in equipment that we don’t have,” he says.

With graduates moving to jobs as far away as North Dakota, Berklund says the jobs are out there, even if that means students have to leave the state to find them. “We’re prepping for gas pipelines now,” Berklund says. “There’s a tremendous amount of natural gas and we’re pushing to have welding and diesel mechanics here on site. Our graduates will be running the show; they’ll be the foremen—that’s how we’re looking at the future,” he says. FFJ

 

Sources

  • AVTEC-Alaska’s Institute of Technology
    Seward, Alaska 
    907/224-3322
    www.avtec.edu
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