In response to the growing need of industry in Union County, the rest of the Upstate and beyond for trained welders, the Union County Advanced Technology center is developing an academic certification program that will help meet that need and give those who graduate from the program the opportunity to earn anywhere from $20 to $55 an hour.
Interim Site Coordinator Kathy Jo Lancaster said offering an academic certificate in welding has been a goal of the center since it opened three years ago. Lancaster said the center is currently working toward obtaining the approval needed to offer the program. She said it is hoped the center will have the needed approval and be able to begin offering the entry-level classes for the program beginning in May.
“One our goals that we had when we opened the facility in 2009 was to offer a full academic certificate in welding,” Lancaster said. “We’ve provided some welding classes through our continuing education division at the college but this academic certificate is part of our history at Spartanburg Community College. What we’re doing right now is working with SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), our regional accrediting body, to be able to offer that full academic certificate here in Union.
“Our plan is to offer entry level and fundamental courses here as part of the welding certificate,” she said. “We want to begin doing that by the summer of 2012. Our summer classes begin May 14.”
Once the center receives the required approval, Lancaster said the program will be composed of four entry level classes including Introduction to Welding, Gas and Arc Welding, Advanced Arc Welding II, and Arc Welding III. To enroll in the course, students must have a high school diploma or GED. While not required for enrollment, previous and/or current experience working in an industrial environment would be a plus.
While offering the welding certificate has always been a goal of the center, Lancaster said the effort to begin offering it this summer is being driven by the growing opportunities for employment in the field in the Upstate and adjacent areas of the southeast.
“One of the main reasons we’re working toward the certificate in welding is in response to workforce development in our region,” Lancaster said. “We are actually in a prime location for students considering a career in welding. The VCS Summer nuclear facility in Fairfield County is in the process of building two additional nuclear reactors. You’re looking at 3,000 jobs and many of those will be welders during the construction phase.
“In Cherokee County there are discussions underway about building a nuclear facility in the Gaffney area,” she said. “Also, Shaw Construction announced in February the Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, Ga., will be adding two additional units as well. As you can see, there’s a lot of opportunities for welders in the nuclear construction area in our region.”
Lancaster said developments within Union County are also fueling interest in welding.
“With the presence of ESAB in our community interest in welding has skyrocketed,” Lancaster said. “Not a day goes by that we don’t get a call about welding.”
That interest is no doubt due to the wages trained welders can earn which Welding Instructor Jason Pace said can vary from $18 an hour to $35 an hour at the entry level. In the field of nuclear construction, Pace said wages can be as high as $55 for an experienced welder, providing they are willing to travel to the job.
“You’ve got to go get the money, it’s not going to come to you,” Pace said. “A lot of people don’t want to travel, but you have to if you want to make that kind of money.”
While welding jobs in Union County would not pay what those in the nuclear construction industry do, Pace said trained, certified welders make an average of $20 an hour locally.
Lancaster said the earnings enjoyed by welders is due not only to the demand of industry for welders but also due to the level of skills and training required to meet the demands of those jobs.
“It is a very dynamic industry that requires a higher level of skills,” Lancaster said. “Welders today are being trained to operate robots and other automated systems that use powerful lasers and beams. Also, the skills we teach here are transferable to other including industries including manufacturing, construction, oil, pipe, and, of course, nuclear.”
Pace pointed out that once they graduate, students have the skills they need to undergo the certification process to become welders for the companies that will employ them.
“We train the students to be certified as welders by the companies that hire them,” Pace said. “Duke Energy, Shaw Construction, Georgia Power & Lights, the Fluor Corporation, they all certify their welders.”
Lancaster and Pace pointed out that Spartanburg Community College which, together with USC Union, operates the advanced technology center, already offers the welding course planned for the center at its Spartanburg campus. On average, students complete the course and are ready to enter the workforce within less than year. Of those who successfully complete the course, 90 percent have jobs soon after graduation.
While as many as 130 students are enrolled at any one time in the course offered at the Spartanburg campus, Lancaster said the course to be offered at the center will accommodate up to 14 students. Some of those students will be employees of Haemonetics and Resolute Forest Products who Lancaster said have expressed an interest in the opportunities for training the course will provide their employees. Lancaster said Haemonetics has agreed to partner with the center to sponsor two of its employees in the program. She said the center is also working with Resolute Forest Productions to identify training options for its employees.
Enrollment for the welding course will be held at the Union County Advanced Technology Center, 1401 Furman Fendley Highway, Union, on Tuesday, May 1. For more information, contact the center at (864) 466-1060.