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Welding

10 to 2

By Lisa Rummler

January 2010 - Every Monday and Wednesday, students stream into John Phelps' welding class at Clackamas Community College, Oregon City, Ore. They review homework, usually an assignment that covered a chapter or two in their welding textbook, then they don safety gear and hit the shop floor. Students spend the rest of the class at welding stations. They use inverter-style equipment to practice weld configurations and weld joints that are done in all positions: flat, horizontal, vertical and overhead.

Four hours after they arrived, the students call it quits and head home. It's 2 a.m.--they started class at 10 p.m. the previous day.

Sign of the times
Clackamas Community College has offered welding classes for more than 30 years. Having them late at night is a relatively recent phenomenon, however. Phelps, a welding instructor and alumnus of the college's welding program, says Clackamas began offering a "graveyard-shift" class in the spring of 2009, just on Monday and Wednesday.

The time slot was made available again during the summer semester, which saw increased enrollment. This prompted members of the faculty to consider having the class Monday through Thursday in the fall.

"So we offered it all four nights, and it filled the first week of September," says Phelps. "And with the employment rate the way it was, it was really the way to meet our students' needs."

In November, Oregon's unemployment rate was 11.1 percent. This was down from 11.2 percent in October but still higher than November's national average of 10 percent.

"[The class] has really been beneficial, allowing students to try and gain employment during normal business hours and still give them an opportunity to better themselves and go to school in a time frame that most people don't normally consider an option," says Phelps. "I have a student who's married and has a family at home. It allows him to look for work during the day, stay at home and have dinner with his family, and when everyone goes to bed, he's able to put in some extra hours and come up to the school and work on welding."

Solid foundation
At the turn of the 21st century, Clackamas County approved a bond for Clackamas Community College, which led to the construction of a cutting-edge building for welding classes.

"With the help of several instructors and great input from business and industry, we designed what I would call a state-of-the-market welding facility, meaning that it was practical, and it represented the kinds of technology and the ability to change technology rapidly that you would find in the industry," says Scott Giltz, dean for technical career education at Clackamas Community College. "We have 34 booths and a nice fab area. It's just really good technology and a good learning space."

Giltz also says many students enroll in the college's welding classes, no matter the time slot, for upgrade training and to become more marketable.

"We work a lot with local Workforce Investment Act agencies in helping their clients get a job, get a better job, keep their job, etc., so it's all very much related to economic development," he says. "It's quite a shift to be running a class from 10 at night until 2 in the morning, but that's what's in demand, and we're fortunate enough to be in a position to deliver that."

People make the difference
The welding instructors at Clackamas Community College teach the same curriculum regardless of time slot--students in the afternoon session learn the same things as those taking the late-night class.

Some things differ, however. For instance, there are fewer students in the 10 p.m.-to-2 a.m. class. Having 18 students instead of 34, the maximum number, helps reduce bottlenecks on the shop floor, says Phelps, and allows him to spend more one-on-one time with each student.

And given the circumstances that drive many of them to take the late-night class, Phelps says there is a higher level of intensity and seriousness among those students, which inspires him.

"I'm really fortunate to be able to do this, and it's motivational to the students in our class to know that this is their time," he says. "[It's like], 'This is my time to learn how to do this. This is the only time I have. I have a limited amount of time to do this. I need to get it.'"

Additionally, Phelps says the diversity in the late-night welding class is ideal--the class consists of men and women who range in age from 17 to 50-plus. He also says every student in the class is devoted to others' success and is always willing to help fellow classmates.

"The camaraderie is like almost no other class that I've taught," says Phelps. "I don't want to take away from anything else that I do, but it's something special, and it's important." FFJ

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