A paradox in welding education

November 1, 2010
By: Amanda Carlson

What's going on in welding education? That's a question I had to ponder when researching an article I was asked to write for the FABTECH® Show Daily, a publication distributed at this year's exhibition in Atlanta.

It's a broad question that could go in many directions, but in my research I found an interesting paradox exists for many technical and community college programs around the country—an increase in enrollment followed by a decrease in funding. The kicker here is decreased funding.

What's the reason for this?

According to Dan Turner, a welding instructor at Yuba Community College, Yuba, Calif., and regional partner for Weld-Ed, enrollment is up because of welding's surge in popularity. Many people are turning to welding as a second career option and are going back to school to get trained.

So what's up with funding? Funding is down because of low welder demand in the schools' immediate vicinity, Turner said. That does not mean, however, the demand for welders is low everywhere. On the contrary. In fact, a report released by the National Center for Welding Education and Training (Weld-Ed) has revealed some positive news for the welding industry, particularly in the next few years.

The "State of the Welding Industry Report: Executive Summary," produced by the Workforce Institute Inc., reports that despite the decline in manufacturing and welding jobs from 2002 to 2009, a need for more than 400,000 new and replacement workers is projected by 2019, or more than 37 percent of the overall work force.

The most troubling aspect of budget cuts is the resulting shortage of qualified teachers, said Jim Warren, director of member services and education for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Intl. (FMA). Warren said many of FMA's Certified Education Centers (CECs) are struggling to hire enough teachers to handle high enrollment numbers.

Budgetary issues also mean educational programs don't have the proper facilities or the equipment to accommodate high enrollment numbers, Warren noted.

This means educators are spread thin. In some cases, they might not even have a welding degree, or welding is not their main technology focus, Turner said.

Enter Weld-Ed programs like the National Teacher Education Seminar, a week-long professional development class for community and technical college instructors. Held each summer since 2007, the seminar provides a platform for educators to dissect curriculum ideas and share classroom experiences. The seminar focuses on techniques to help educators teach welding skills by providing classroom lectures, lab exercises and demonstrations, information on how to develop and use a curriculum, and tips to navigate the grant-writing process.

As a result of successful runs at Weld-Ed educational partner sites in Tennessee, North Dakota, California, and Hawaii in 2010, Turner said the organization is looking to expand on it for the summer of 2011.

Are you a welding instructor dealing with high enrollment but low funding? If so, how are you coping with it?

I'd love to hear your story.
Amanda Carlson

Amanda Carlson

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8260