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Training & Education

Right time, right place, right student

By John Kenney

A career falls into place when opportunity meets teachable enthusiasm

July 2013 - Take a high school student eager to enter the job market, add the Arkansas State University-Mountain Home welding program and a little bit of luck, and the result is the kind of job a  teenager could only dream of a few weeks ago.

Today, Norfork High School graduate Nathan Mooney is part of an elite team formed to introduce a new product line at Ranger Boats in Flippin, Ark. In the spring of 2012, Mooney was a high school senior without a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. “I love fishing and camping - anything outdoors,” he says.  “I just didn’t know what I was going to do to make a living.” Then Mooney made a life-changing decision: he enrolled in a grant-supported welding certification program at the university.

The ASUMH program focuses on welding employability by helping participants prepare for certification in accordance with American Welding Society standards. Funded by the Arkansas Energy Sector Partnership, the program is designed to meet the needs of the workforce by upgrading skills of current workers and providing training to prepare participants for careers in targeted industry sectors.  

FFJ-0708-webex-training-imageMooney had never welded before, not even as part of a high school Agricultural Metals program. “I didn’t know a thing about welding,” he says. “My grandpa used to weld, but I didn’t even know that before I started the program.”  However, welding came naturally to him.

ASUMH welding instructor Ricky Gunn identified Mooney’s abilities and winning attitude early in the training process. “Nathan was an ideal student,” Gunn says. “He was eager to learn and willing to practice in the welding booth what he learned on the virtual reality welding simulator. He was one of my best students.” Of the 18 high school seniors enrolled in the spring AESP welding certification program at ASUMH, Mooney was the first to certify.

Then luck entered the mix. Mooney’s mother was planning a garage sale with a neighbor when she mentioned that her son really enjoyed welding and was even thinking about going to Alaska to look for a job after graduation. That conversation was overheard by Ranger Boats project engineer Lance Newton.  “My in-laws live next door to Nathan and his mother. I told his mother that we might be hiring welders in the fall and suggested he turn in an application,” Newton says.  

As soon as Mooney heard, he applied and an interview quickly followed. “I immediately saw potential in this young man,” Newton says.  “Although young and inexperienced, he had the right attitude. He was well spoken, polite and seemed grateful that he one day might have a chance to be part of the Ranger Team.”   

Mooney was hopeful that he might find employment in the trailer department where custom boat trailers are fabricated. Little did he know that he was being considered as a key member of the team being formed to introduce the new product line. On July 10, 2012, Ranger Boats’ owner Fishing Holdings LLC announced plans to invest $2.5 million in a project to build aluminum fishing and hunting boats at its Flippin plant. Mooney was hired as the first new welder for the aluminum boat facility. 

Mooney is making the most of the technical training he received. The AESP program helped him certify in the MIG welding process. Since being hired by Ranger Boats, he has received on-the-job training in TIG welding and now uses both processes in his new career. “I wouldn’t have this job if it weren’t for the training I got,” Mooney says. “With the on-the-job experience I’m getting now, I could go pretty much anywhere and get a job if I wanted to. But I have no intention of leaving.” FFJ

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John Kenney recently retired from his position as director of workforce and continuing education at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home.

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