Welding institute launching bigger lab

April 11, 2013

From lacrossetribune.com: “Welding institute launching bigger lab” — A local initiative to train skilled welders has received monetary boosts and will have a bigger lab and more participants when its first regular session begins next month.

The Welding Skills Institute is using a combined $80,000 it received from Jackson County and the Black River Falls School District to expand its BRF High School-based lab and, in turn, welcome more participants.

The initiative, started last year in an effort to fill a growing local need for skilled welders, will begin its first regular session May 13 with nearly double the number of participants it had in each of its two pilot sessions.

“I’m super excited about it,” said BRF High School Principal Tom Chambers, who helped launch the institute. “I think it’s a great example of collaboration between the school, county, businesses and the community.

“The project is, by far, the biggest collaborative project I’ve worked on.”

The effort to launch the Welding Skills Institute began when Nelson Global Products welding engineer Paul Schulz approached Chambers to use high school welding lab space to test new company applicants.

That push showed there weren’t many qualified applicants for welding jobs in the area, and soon representatives from local businesses, Western Technical College, Jackson County Treatment Court and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections began collaborating to launch the institute to fill the local need.

The institute trains participants in basic wire feed welding skills through welding, blueprint reading and math curriculum that are necessary for jobs at manufacturing companies like Nelson Global Products and D&S Manufacturing.

“I think it’s an excellent start. It’s a real short-term, high-intensity program that hopefully someday will expand into longer terms and more technical topics,” said Schulz, who will accept a 2013 Business Friends of Education award from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for Nelson’s work on the institute.

“I think we’re off to a really excellent start.”

The Welding Skills Institute received $50,000 in Ho-Chunk Nation funds through Jackson County last fall and $30,000 from the BRF School District to allow it to update the lab. Nelson and D&S Manufacturing also have donated materials and equipment throughout the program’s tenure.

Work on the BRF High School technical education classrooms spurred by the monetary contributions has allowed the institute to expand from seven welding booths to 13, which are about one-third bigger than their original size.

That will allow more students to enroll in the first regular 10-week session next month, including five spots for high school students interested in higher-level welding, three spots for Ho-Chunk Nation participants and the rest for Jackson County Treatment Court participants and placements through the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

Officials hope to hold four 10-week sessions a year now that the expansion is taking place and the pilot period is complete. They are pursuing a grant to create a mobile classroom equipped for computerized numerical control training, a skill in demand and a natural extension of basic welding, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Lister said.

They also hope the institute will remain a presence in the community for the indefinite future.

“I’ve been impressed with the collaborative effort by Western Technical College, (the Department of Corrections), principal Tom Chambers at Black River Falls High School, as well as the willingness of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors and the Black River Falls School Board to fund substantial expansions and improvements of the welding institute,” said Lister, who also assisted in the program’s launch.

Chambers said community collaboration has been an integral part of the program and commended the work of Nelson, D&S and other local entities.

He said it’s appropriate Nelson was recognized through the Department of Public Instruction award.

“Nelson has been very supportive of the whole process,” Chambers said. “They’ve been good partners to work with.”

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