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Welders wanted

Seacoast schools collaborate to create skilled welders

Union Leader Correspondent

February 02. 2014 4:43PM
A student works on a project at the Seacoast School of Technology Welding Technologies in Portsmouth, which is collaborating with Great Bay Community College. (COURTESY)

PORTSMOUTH - A collaboration between Great Bay Community College and the Seacoast School of Technology in Exeter will soon start to help fill a void in the workforce.

A new certificate program in welding will be offered by GBCC and held at the SST facility. The program is designed to provide graduates with training for entry and intermediate jobs in five major welding processes, including MIG, TIG, Stick, Oxy-fuel and Plasma. Instruction on blue print reading, electricity and fabrication techniques will also be provided.

The nine-month course will prepare students to take various American Welding Society certification tests based on the specific needs of their employers.

An information session on the new program will be held at SST from 5:30 to 7 p.m. today. A half-hour presentation will be followed by a tour and a question and answer session.

Jonathan Theberge, program coordinator and welding instructor at SST, said the demand for skilled welders is significant both nationally and in New Hampshire.

According to the AWS, there are currently 600,000 welding jobs available in the United States.

"With the lack of skilled workers, only half of those positions are currently filled," Theberge said. "We have seen this locally as work sites have shut down due to the lack of welders."

Theberge said he has more job opportunities than students to put into them and expects the outlet will remain open, largely because many of the baby boomers are leaving the trades, and their spots cannot be filled fast enough.

He said SST is contacted weekly by employers looking to hire students immediately. One of his high school students recently gained a part-time job welding steel and making $20 an hour.

"This program is a major step in the right direction to fulfill the needs of manufacturers across the region," Theberge said.

Public affairs officer Danna Eddy said the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard hires about 10 to 15 welders annually. That number is based on current workload and attrition.

"Finding journey-level skilled welders has been difficult due to the uniqueness of the specialized welder skill set required to conduct the complex work of overhauling and repairing nuclear-powered submarines," Eddy said. "However, the Shipyard's robust apprentice program provides an individual the unique skill set to understand and master this demanding trade."

The four- to five-year training program offers the opportunity for an apprentice to reach the level of journeyman mechanic in a particular trade, she said.

She said the addition of the GBCC curriculum will provide benefit to the entire Seacoast area.

"A person with a welding certificate would be able to apply for entry-level welding positions at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard," she said.

Aaron Govoni, project manager with R.H. White Construction in Bow, said in general the construction industry is an aging one so the need for skilled labor across the industry is huge, including welders, pipefitters and concrete workers.

Of the approximately 120 employees based out of the Bow office, about four are welders, but Govoni said they have a wide network of subcontractors they work with when the need arises.

He said local distribution companies for natural gas and pipeline, R.H. White Construction's major clients, have their own welding program individuals need to qualify for in order to work in the sensitive industry.

He said he thinks it is great a new certificate program is being added to help train workers.

"If the Keystone Pipeline goes, there is going to be a huge demand for welders in the Midwest I'm sure. This is a good opportunity to get people ready if there is a huge surge in workload," Govoni said.The new welding certificate program will be offered in the evenings at SST and will consist of three 12-week semesters beginning Feb. 24. SST houses a dedicated welding lab with 14 welding booths and plasma cutting capabilities.

Margaret Callahan, president of SST, said the collaboration is good for the state of New Hampshire and hopes it is the first of many. Discussions between SST and GBCC began several years ago as the community college was preparing to move its campus from Stratham to Pease International Tradeport, she said. Callahan, who also serves on the Governor's Advanced Manufacturing Council, said everyone associated with the industry is aware of the shortage of skilled workers in a variety of fields, including welding and other fields connected to advanced manufacturing.

She said welding is also one of the most popular programs offered at SST, and they have a long list of high school students waiting to get in."Word is out there that it is a great program and there are great career opportunities," Callahan said.

They graduate 20-25 students in welding each year, but Callahan said it is not enough to satisfy the need in the state.

The certificate program through GBCC can accommodate up to 18 students.

Will Arvelo, president of Great Bay Community College, said the college has had a close partnership with SST for many years.

"The Seacoast School of Technology is one of our biggest feeders and so we have been trying to work with them on a number of things," Arvelo said.

He said SST is also very interested in wanting to create pathways from SST to community college and onto university.

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