NWTC and local business team-up to create journeyman welding and fabrication program to help fill welder gap

May 22, 2012

From millerwelds.com: “Wisconsin technical school and local business team-up to create journeyman welding and fabrication program to help fill welder gap” – A Welder-Fabricator apprenticeship program at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) is underway thanks to part of a $6 million federal green energy grant to the state of Wisconsin and collaboration between local industry and educators. The goal of the program is to fill the critical need for journeyman welders in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s (DWD) Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards (BAS) and NWTC introduced the new Welder-Fabricator apprenticeship program in January.

NWTC has a big impact in Wisconsin, serving more than 42,000 students in the Green Bay area on a variety of disciplines including welding certification and fabrication courses. The school has been educating students in northeast Wisconsin for 100 years, providing an avenue for a skilled workforce since 1912. New in 2012 is the apprenticeship welding-fabrication program that will give employees the chance to become highly trained experts, and give employers the opportunity to keep workers on the job while the beginner welder builds on knowledge and skills.

“This program complements our current introductory technical programs and will deliver benefits – we bring introductory welders up to the experts’ level of skill and knowledge,” says Scott Massey, AWS Certified Welding Instructor, NWTC. “It’s on the job training that will help speed up the learning curve and help the welder receive journeyman status in a shorter amount of time.”

The learning curve may be shortened but it is still intensive. The apprentice program is a four-year trek that includes 8,000 hours; 7,560 of on-the-job training and 440 hours of in class training. The NWTC program will provide the classroom time for training on Fridays while the apprentice will continue to work Monday through Thursday for their employer. The program goal is for participants to attain an American Welding Society certification and be a journeyman welder.

“The apprentice program will include blueprint reading and metallurgy classroom time,” says Massey. “The apprentice will study math and effective communication. The target is a well-rounded individual who can weld, fabricate and lead.”

Industry Need

Wisconsin’s manufacturers, like many companies across the country, are in need of journeyman welders. The transition to greener technologies means delivering employees that are trained in the latest environmentally friendly techniques and tools. The apprenticeship combines two of the high-demand occupations in manufacturing—welding and fabrication The hybrid is helping students not only attain journeymen cards but give the student the ability to become a versatile, and more valuable employee.

“Technology and green initiatives are driving the trade. The existing workforce has the opportunity to be more multitalented and successful,” says Todd Kiel, apprenticeship manager trades & industrial, NWTC. “The graduate will bridge that gap that existed before between a welder and a fabricator.  He will be a multifaceted skilled worker and even more valuable to an employer.”

The program will be filled with participants from local manufacturers in and around the Green Bay area including ship repair and building, the paper industry, automotive and others. With nearby ports and associated manufacturers and repair shops, pipe and ship techniques will be a concentration of the program.

“We expect the demand to steadily increase as more and more employers become aware of the program,” says Kiel. “We have 17 other successful apprenticeship programs and we expect this one to be very popular given the concentration on welding and fabrication.”

The Curriculum

The classroom time will include plenty of attention on the traditional TIG, MIG, Stick and Flux Cored processes of welding.But according to Kiel the overall goal of the apprenticeship program at NWTC is to turn the somewhat experienced welder into a critical thinking expert who can work independently on their own, troubleshooting and solving problems. At the end of the 8,000 hours the student will be a journeyman welder-fabricator who is critical to his employers operation.

“There’s always a concern that you are creating an employee who will then take his practice elsewhere. But we believe the opposite is true that instead you are creating a more loyal employee because you have invested in his skills and his ability,” says Kiel. “You have a higher-skilled employee who could eventually move up within the organization and become a leader.”

The apprenticeship participants will be working with some of the latest in welding technology thanks to the grant. Miller Electric Mfg. Co.’s headquarters is in nearby Appleton, Wisc. The decidedly blue welding machines inside the lab have nothing to do with proximity and more to do with giving his students an opportunity to work with the same equipment they will find at modern hi-tech manufacturers, fabricators and construction companies.

“We love to TIG with the Dynasty 350’s and 200’s with the modern pulse arc and advance squarewave technology,” says Massey. “When these students get here, low and behold, there’s the same machine they have at the workplace. It makes the learning easier and the practice at the workplace and classroom compatible.”

Dan Niemela, district sales manager, has been at Miller Electric Mfg. Co. for four years. Niemela sat on the committee of educators and local industry leaders that developed the curriculum and supported the $1.2 million dollar investment in equipment.

Niemela leaned on his own recent experience as a welding student. A scholarship winner in 2008 at Ferris University in Michigan, he can trace the line between quality welding education and his success today at Miller.

“The students need to have a diverse education in welding to attain that journeyman card,” said Niemela. “Using the right tools is essential in the learning process. If you’re fighting your machine, you’re not learning.  I’m glad we were able to provide the best in Miller products that will help the student learn the right way to weld.”

The Welder-Fabricator apprenticeship program is the fourth of six new apprenticeship programs to be developed through a $6 million SAGE (System to Administer Grants Electronically) project grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. SAGE grants are focused on pushing green technologies into Wisconsin’s workforce. The partnerships between businesses, educators and industry leaders like Miller will help identify and address clean energy job opportunities in construction, manufacturing and utility industries.

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