EAST JORDAN – Ten participants in the first Welding Skills Lab received certificates of completion and had a chance to network with regional employers in need of welders on April 28, at the conclusion of the first 15-week session of this new training opportunity for participants of all ages.
The participants gathered at East Jordan High School, the location of the skills lab that started in January, to meet with prospective employers and showcase their welds and the skills they’ve learned.
“Initially I enrolled in this as a hobby, and now I think of it as more of a job opportunity because I fell in love with it,” said welding participant Gina Bennett, of Petoskey, one of 7 participants who also received specific welding certifications. “I love having the ability to create, and to take old things and make them new.”
Before the participants mingled with employers, East Jordan Public Schools Superintendent Matt Stevenson greeted those gathered and shared his enthusiasm for seeing the program get off the ground this year.
“This was the brainchild of many organizations to help make it a reality for people to gain welding skills and enter the workforce,” Stevenson said. “We’ve been looking at ways to use the career tech equipment in our school, like the welding tools, more than from 8-3 when students are in session. We think we’ve found a terrific solution with the Welding Skills Lab.”
Jim Rummer, Director of Career and Technical Education for Char-Em ISD, said he was also thrilled to see the welding gear being used to train adults with valuable workforce skills. “We hope to replicate this idea in many of our districts with our career tech investments,” Rummer noted.
For the students, the chance to gain marketable, hands-on skills can be a game-changer. Many of them plan to parlay their certifications into the workforce, where welders continue to be in high demand.
“There’s definitely a shortage of welders and it’s one of our more difficult roles to fill,” said Karl Gray, HR Manager for DCL in Charlevoix, which recently opened a new location in Traverse City fabricating dust control systems. “We were excited about this program and the chance to meet the participants at the open house.”
John Zerby, of Charlevoix, said he moved to Michigan from Arizona three years ago after working for 25 years as a paramedic. He was looking for a new career path when he learned about the Welding Skills Lab.
“It really interested me, and I like having options,” said Zerby. “The information you get in this class from (instructor) Dave Muladore is fast-paced and fun. He’s so easy to work with, patient and helpful.”
Participant Nelson Ogden works for East Jordan Public Schools in payroll and accounting, but enjoys fixing things and learning new skills that can benefit him at work and home. “I really love building stuff at home and I have a welding torch for fixing old cars,” Ogden said. “I’m hoping there might be interest in offering a level 2 class in the future.”
Business representatives on-site for the open house included Jervis B. Webb, GIC, DCL, Honeywell, Moran Iron Works, UA Local 85, Industrial Arts Institute, Trimet Industries, and Industrial Magnetics.
“From an employer perspective, this is a great opportunity for growth of a trade in our community. Welders are in high demand at our company and with the upcoming opening of our new facility, I hope that this program can help us to recruit our local talent,” said Kayla Brown, HR generalist for Jervis Webb in Harbor Springs. “We look forward to more of these skills labs.”
Tammi Ward, the executive director of the Industrial Arts Institutes, one of the region’s leading training facilities for welding skills development, said the open house was a great opportunity to meet the participants. “I was impressed with the program and met some students with a great deal of welding potential. We hope to see them continue their journey toward a welding career with additional training at the Industrial Arts Institute,” said Ward.
Partners in workforce development
The Welding Skills Lab is a partnership among Char-Em ISD Career and Technical Education, East Jordan Public Schools and its welding instructor Dave Muladore, Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, and Northwest Michigan Works!, which provided scholarship funding for many of the participants.
Jason Slade, vice president for strategic initiatives at NMC, said the college saw the Welding Skills Lab as a valuable partnership for the community and for the college’s welding programs.
“We have an initiative right now at the college to do a better job with workforce development, and this was a way for us to do that with these important community partners,” said Slade. “We are looking at ways we can provide non-credit, low barrier opportunities to help community members get job-related skills and into careers.”
NMC offers stackable welding credentials including level 1 and level 2 certificates of achievement, and an associate’s degree in applied sciences. Those who participated in the Welding Skills Lab can receive credit toward those programs.
“We hope to see people enter the workforce as a welder or fabricator, and look to us to continue their education,” Slade said.
Diane Culver, service center manager for Northwest Michigan Works’ Traverse City and Petoskey offices, said collaboration results in success for workforce development.
“This welding cohort has been able to give individuals a micro-credential to enhance their current role, or give them a springboard into the welding industry,” said Culver. “Utilizing East Jordan’s facilities and having this opportunity in a rural setting has been tremendous. The condensed timeframe and evening hours along with supported funding through NW Michigan Works! have been attainable for many. We look forward to assisting future cohorts.”
Sparking interest in welding careers
Bennett, the class’s only female participant, was also one of its most enthusiastic. Currently waiting tables and taking college courses in Petoskey, she is also an active derby and bump-and-run participant and loves fixing her own vehicles. The skills she learned will be invaluable, she said, in pursuit of her hobbies and possibly a new career.
“I had zero experience, but I think I have a natural ability for it,” she said. “I flew through it and really enjoyed it. I would recommend this to anyone. Dave took the time to understand all of us and really work with us at our various skill levels. It was incredible.”
John Zoerhof, of Petoskey, enrolled in the program because as an amateur welding who likes to work on vehicles and motorcycles, “I got tired of my welds breaking all the time.”
“I started this as a personal interest, but by the end it’s become something I’m interested in exploring more,” said Zoerhof. “I would highly recommend this class to other adults. You won’t regret it.”
Ethan Fettig was the youngest participant, 18 and a junior at Petoskey High School who has a hobby farm he hopes to grow into a career, along with welding.
“I took a welding program a couple years ago and thought it would be a future career path for me,” Fettig said. “I have my own welder on the farm, but I wanted to learn more. We learned a lot of the basics and many different skills that I can use.”
Future Welding Skills Labs will be offered. This first session ran for 15 weeks, two nights per week for two hours per session, at East Jordan High School’s welding lab. Funding was provided for some participants via Northwest Michigan Works and its workforce scholarships. Information about future welding labs can be found on the Char-Em ISD website, www.charemisd.org or by emailing Corey Busch with Networks Northwest, at firstname.lastname@example.org.