Career Tech welding school prepares students for certification, good jobs




Students in the welding program at the Blount County Career Technical Center practice, under the instructor's watchful eye, grinding metal plates in preparation for certification tests. From left are Chad Lawrence and Aaron Brewer, both Hayden High School students, and welding instructor Randy Hammond. Both students have competed successfully in recent welding competitions.

Students in the welding program at the Blount County Career Technical Center practice, under the instructor’s watchful eye, grinding metal plates in preparation for certification tests. From left are Chad Lawrence and Aaron Brewer, both Hayden High School students, and welding instructor Randy Hammond. Both students have competed successfully in recent welding competitions.

By 2010, there’ll be a shortage of 200,000 welders nationwide in fabrication and construction, according to Randy Hammond, welding instructor at the Blount Career Technical Center at Cleveland.

“According to industry sources, the average age of welders in this country is in the mid-fifties, with many approaching 60 years old,” said Hammond. “They estimate that over half of the industry’s highly trained welders are nearing retirement. So, the opportunities are out there for high-level employment in various industries, because virtually all construction and manufacturing companies require some form of welding,” he said.

Certification: an important distinction

Hammond said that as a certified welding inspector and a certified welding educator through the American Welding Society, he has the credentials to train students to be certified welders, a distinction that opens the doors to both employment and higher pay.

“If I know the welding procedures that companies have and use, I can certify students to where they could start to work as certified welders,” Hammond said. He added that most welders doing government work or other contract work are required to have certification.

Hammond said that in the Blount County area, most welders start out at $12 to $14 per hour, usually getting up to a dollar an hour raise after 90 days if they demonstrate adequate proficiency.

“After a year or so they could be making $15 to $17 per hour in a shop environment,” he said, explaining that a shop environment would be a metal fabricating company like McMillian Fab or Hornsby Steel locally.

Wages up to $25/hour in some construction jobs

“If a welder wants to get into a construction environment, like working on a pipeline or something of that nature, they might make as much as $25 an hour if they’re certified and have a year or two of prior experience,” he said. He added that welding provides a path to greater earning opportunities in supervisory and management positions as well.

Hammond said that before coming to work as a welding instructor, he worked in welding management at Summa Technology in Cullman. “Before the economy started going down, we couldn’t find enough welders,” he said. He said overtime work at time-and-a-half pay was routinely available for workers who wanted the extra hours.

He said the economic downturn has slowed the demand for welders since last October, but that most industry sources say demand will pick up again in March and April, when construction activity normally accelerates each year. The government stimulus package with its emphasis on infrastructure construction and alternate energy sources will also stimulate demand for welders, he said.

Shop does public work at good price

Hammond said the welding shop, in addition to training students, also provides a valuable service by doing work for the public. “In this time of economic hardship, we can save people money by repairing and building items such as gates, cattle panels, hay rings, trusses, farm equipment, and many other things.”

Students get valuable experience in welding and fabricating, and people get a good product at a very good price, he said. Normally the charge is cost of materials plus 20 percent. No labor is charged, he said.

“Recently, I had two students travel to Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville, Fla., for a welding contest. They placed 11th and 16th out of 80 contestants. I am very proud they did so well and that they are so interested in welding,” Hammond said.

“Currently I have 29 students in the program here, but I’d like to see the number grow to 45 or 50 in the next year. Not all high school students are cut out for college, and some of them are actually looking for good alternatives. Welding is a lucrative career field for young people, and they’re going to be very much in demand in the coming years,” he said.

Anyone interested in more information about the welding program can contact Hammond at the Career Tech Center at 625-3424.