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Slade Coover uses an arc welder at the Lancaster County Career and Technical Center in Mount Joy on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.

Lancaster County Career and Technical Center (LCCTC) has three programs in the welding discipline that can lead to any number of successful careers, starting with free training funded by a $100,000 grant from the BB&T Growth Fund and administered and matched by the Lancaster County Career and Technical Foundation (LCCTF). According to Anthony Gillespie, executive director of the LCCTF, the premise of the program - Workforce 2020 - was to match workers with jobs in Lancaster County with the initial focus on advanced manufacturing.

This first round, introduction to welding, focuses on the basic skills needed to gain entry to a good job. While education and training can continue subsequently this course has allowed LCCTC to offer free training to a larger number of applicants, serve more employers and meet more needs.

The basic welding program, explains Dominic Russo, adult education welding instructor/coordinator, is a 200 hour (ten week, 20 hour per week) program which entails learning the fundamentals of welding plus a section on theory, math and measurement, hand tools, communication, teamwork and blueprint reading. The course, valued at $2,000 but free via the grant, is designed to train an entry level welder.

Gillespie says results have been so successful, graduating 48 students since June 2017, “that the BB&T Foundation has contributed another $150,000 which our foundation has matched.” The second grant is in the planning stages right now. For those doing the math that’s $500,000 in total for training.

The second program, welding technology, is longer. Over the course of a year students spend the majority of the evening class learning welding techniques hands-on with 80 hours each of welding technology and blueprint reading. These adult learners have the ability to co-op, and Russo says the students all have other responsibilities. “I’m very aggressive about getting them jobs. This year is my proudest moment. We usually have a 95 to 98 percent placement rate. This year all 14 students in the class have employment.”

For those who wish to expand their skills the ten-month advanced welding technology program takes proficiencies and knowledge to the next level. Students hone their skills in pipe welding to 6G certification, one of, if not the hardest certification test to pass.  The skills they learn can be used in multiple industries including manufacturing, auto, construction, ship building, aerospace, pipeline and others.

One way that LCCTC sets itself apart is that academics are not separated out, but taught in context of the skills. Math is learned as applied to blueprint reading for example and different technical languages are used daily.

Gillespie says, “These programs offer multiple pathways to success. In advanced manufacturing welders do more than just weld. They interact with other kinds of technology, use transferable knowledge and continue to grow and learn.”

“Welders serve all the trades such as millwrights and machinists,” expands Russo, “so learning and adding skills makes you very ‘hireable’.”

So have these programs changed anyone’s career direction and prospects? You bet. Four recent and soon-to-be graduates shared their stories.

Josh Murphy was saving to enter the year-long welding program, but after hearing about the free basic course, switched gears and applied. “The grant defrayed 100 percent of the cost for me. Prior to this I was self-employed in landscaping and worked in the restaurant industry for 19 years.”

He graduates in November and will be working full time at one of the welding job offers he’s received while also beginning the year-long welding technology course in January. He says, “This is a brighter future for me and a good inspiration for my kids,” to see him both working and going to school full time.

Connar Beck originally attended HACC for wildlife management, but felt that “school school wasn’t for me, and I knew I had no guarantee of a job coming out. I remembered welding from high school, tried it and loved it. You have a guaranteed job going into the trades.” He recently started at High Steel and is planning on returning for the advanced program while continuing to work full time.

While working as a restaurant manager Jordan Ulmer considered various careers and two year programs, but ultimately decided that the one year welding technology training was the right fit for him. He too has just been hired at High Steel.

David Meck was employed elsewhere in the manufacturing industry making $11 an hour and increased his hourly rate to $21 after completing the first year program. He graduates in December from the advanced welding course. “I came in knowing nothing about welding and now I can do it all – 6G, TIG, MIG.”

He’s looking for an opportunity in pipe welding. “Pipe welding is the prestige of welding,” he says.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” continues Meck, a sentiment to which all agree including Russo from a teaching and mentoring perspective. The graduates add that it should have been their first step after high school, but also say their other work experiences have given them a better appreciation for their futures.

“Welding has been in every single industry I’ve worked,” says Murphy. “You have to take everything as a learning experience. You’re never too old to learn something.”

Gillespie sums it all up. “This is where science, technology and engineering all come together. They’re applying their academics and skills every day in their jobs.”