UNION COUNTY — The increasing popularity of its welding program was one of the accomplishments of the Union County Advanced Technology Center during the past year.
In an address to the Union County Technology Center Advisory Committee this week, Kathy Jo Lancaster, technology center site coordinator, reported that the 2012-2013 school year had been a successful one with continued growth in the programs offered, especially welding.
“We’ve had another successful year and we look forward to new programs and services in the next fiscal year,” Lancaster said. “We’re extremely proud of the success of our welding program which has continued to grow based on the need for certified welders in our region.”
Lancaster pointed out that the welding program remains one of the center’s most popular course offerings with classes filling up rapidly during registration. This was again the case during registration for summer classes earlier this week. Of the 65 students who registered for classes, 15 signed up for welding and there was a waiting list of others wanting to take the course.
The welding program is the result of a three-year process to offer an academic certificate in welding which began when the when opened in 2009. The effort achieved success in 2012 when the center was approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to offer full academic certificates in welding. The center’s ability to provide the academic certificates meant that students enrolled in the welding program could obtain their certification there rather than traveling to Spartanburg to complete the course.
In addition to welding, the center received approval from SACS in 2012 to offer full academic certificates in mechatronics, emergency medical technician training, and production associate technology.
The welding program’s growth has been fueled in large part by increased opportunities for employment, both locally and outside Union County and South Carolina, and the salaries welders can earn. Those opportunities include, locally, the arrival of the ESAB Welding and Cutting Products manufacturing facility, which produces high performance MIG and sub-arc welding wire. Opportunities outside the county include the construction of two new reactors at the VS Summer nuclear facility in Fairfield County will require 3,000 workers, many of them welders. Opportunities outside South Carolina include the planned construction of two new units at the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Ga. by Shaw Construction Company.
Salaries earned by trained, certified welders can range from $18 an hour to $35 an hour at the entry level. In the nuclear construction industry, an experienced welder willing to travel can earn as much as $55 an hour.
The field of medical education is another area where the center has experience growth during the past year which saw it enter into an educational partnership with Wallace Thomson Hospital for the coming school year.
“Another area experiencing an increase in enrollment is our pre-health science courses,” Lancaster said. “These courses are prerequisites to the majority of our programs such as nursing, radiology respiratory, surgical tech, and phlebotomy.
“We have partnered with Wallace Thomson Hospital to offer fast track CNA training in July 2013,” she said. “This is a three-week course which provides students the instruction and training needed to take the S.C. Nursing Assistance Certification Exam.”
The center’s entry level health and human services classes includes nursing, respiratory technician, radiology, medical lab, and surgical technician as well as a full certificate for emergency medical technician. In addition to CNA program offered in conjunction with Wallace Thomson, the center also provides Introduction to Early Childhood Education in partnership with Union County First Steps as part of the S.C. Early Child Care and Education Credentialing System.
Another partner of the center is the Union County Career and Technology Center of the Union County School District. The partnership enables the Advanced Technology Center to offer dual credit courses in conjunction with the Career and Technology Center. Those courses include arc welding, machine tool theory and practice, and long-term care with first offered at the Advanced Technology Center and the second and third offered at the Career and Technology Center.
Lancaster said the dual credit program has also been area where the Advanced Technology Center has experienced growth over the past year with increased interest by Union County High School students in taking the courses offered through the program. This interest by high school students in the services offered by the Advanced Technology Center continues on after graduation with Lancaster pointing out that, for the first time since the center opened, graduating seniors had signed up for courses in the fall during registration earlier this week. She said a total of 15 UCHS seniors had signed up for the fall semester.
Strengthening these and other partnerships have also been among the achievements of the Advanced Technology Center during the past year, and Lancaster said plans are to continue to strengthen in the year ahead.
The year ahead will also see an increased effort to promote the mechatronics program offered by the center, both among students interested in a career in the field and local the members of the local business community who may not understand its importance.
“One of our target areas in the next fiscal year will be to promote our mechatronics certificate program,” Lancaster said. “This particular program prepares students for numerous career paths in industrial plants, service companies, utilities and other settings.
“Our main goal is to provide a seamless transition for our high school students enrolled in mechatronics classes into the curriculum once they graduate,” she said. “One important aspect of this goal is to educate our local business and industry community so they understand what mechatronics is all about and how important these skills are to ensure we have a trained workforce in Union County.”
Mechatronics is an interdisciplinary field involving control systems, electronic systems, computers and mechanical systems that integrate product design and automated manufacturing processes. Mechantronics technicians are involved in a variety of fields including robotics, automated manufacturing and packaging, automobiles, airplanes, gas pumps, vending, gaming, ATM machines, heating and cooling systems, and renewable energy systems.
For more information about the Union County Advanced Technology Center and the courses it offers call 466-1060.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.