Welding program aims to aid displaced workers

Nichols Career Center welding instructor Ken Thomas watches as Tanner Bennett welds a piece of steel during class Friday. Bennett, a Jefferson CIty High School senior, is in his second year of the class at the local career center. Thomas, who worked at Von Hoffman several years ago, will be in the position to help some of his former co-workers and friends from RR Donnelley as Nichols will be involved in a program to offer an evening course in welding to help some of those employees when to local book printer closes at the end of September.

Nichols Career Center welding instructor Ken Thomas watches as Tanner Bennett welds a piece of steel during class Friday. Bennett, a Jefferson CIty High School senior, is in his second year of the class at the local career center. Thomas, who worked at Von Hoffman several years ago, will be in the position to help some of his former co-workers and friends from RR Donnelley as Nichols will be involved in a program to offer an evening course in welding to help some of those employees when to local book printer closes at the end of September.

Jefferson City area economic development leaders are hoping an expedited welding program might offer new opportunities for employees losing their jobs at enterprises like RR Donnelley and the Chamois Power Plant.

Three entities — Linn State Technical College, Nichols Career Center and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce — have teamed up to offer the Technical Welding Course. The program has 14 openings, initially, with the possibility for a second same-size class if enough interest is piqued. A registration day hasn’t been announced yet, but the program is scheduled to start on Oct. 21 and conclude by Dec. 20.

The cost for the eight-week course is $3,100. However, qualified participants may be eligible for funding assistance through the Missouri Career Center.

Although not for college credit, the customized course will offer 96 hours of welding training. Classes will be held for three hours, four nights a week, at Nichols. At the end, participants will test for an American Welding Society certification.

Kenny Thomas and Eric Radmacher, welding instructors at Nichols Career Center and Linn State respectively, will co-teach the course.

“We’re going to try to incorporate industry involvement into the class,” said Shelle Jacobs, business and industry coordinator at Linn State. “We’re going to reach out to the local companies, in hopes they will serve as guest speakers, conduct mock interviews and offer tours of their plants.”

Interviews with RR Donnelley employees revealed that welding and computer skills topped the list of new skills they want to learn.

Although no industry has abundant openings in central Missouri, several established corporations — such as ABB, Delong’s Inc. and Doolittle Trailers — have an interest in hiring welders, said Sharon Longan, assistant principal at Nichols Career Center.

“And experienced welders go to the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant or travel where the jobs are,” added Shaun Sappenfield, existing business manager with the chamber of commerce.

Many of the people who work at RR Donnelley have experience as bindery operators, press operators and materials handlers. Welding — with its propensity for weather-exposed working conditions — would be a departure for many of those workers. But it also could prove to be a lucrative direction for a new career.

New welders enter the field at about $12 per hour, estimated Thomas, and average welders earn between $30 and $34 per hour. At the top of the scale, traveling welders can earn up to $40 and $50 per hour.

“Welding can be lucrative,” Thomas added.

Although skilled laborers are in demand, said Thomas, the work can be challenging. Welders need good hand-eye coordination and are often exposed to excessively hot and cold working conditions.

But it’s not just a career path for men, said many of the organizers planning the program. Because the work is repetitious, detail-oriented and requires precision, women are reputed to excel at the task.

“Females make great welders,” Thomas said.

For Thomas, who already teaches all day, adding the night class means a lengthy work day for him, but he’s happy to do it.

“I want to see more people get involved (in highly skilled labor), because the American skilled labor force is dying off,” he lamented.

The jobs also appear to be there.

The welding industry is expected to experience a 12.74 percent increase in employment between 2010 and 2020, according to the Missouri Economic Research Center.

For more information about the program, contact Jacobs at 573-897-5238 or by e-mail at shelle.jacobs@linnstate.edu.

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