Symposium raises welding awareness among high school educators

January 13, 2009

More than 100 Wisconsin high school counselors, educators, and administrators attended a recent symposium on welding careers sponsored by Miller Electric Mfg. Co., Airgas, Miron Construction, and AZCO Inc.

Designed to inform attendees about the salary potential and variety of careers that can originate with an education in welding, the Career Horizons: Welding symposium featured presentations by current welding students, graduates of welding programs, industry experts, and high school administrators.

"I had no idea how many career pathways were available through a welding education until I became involved in this program," said Larry Haase, principal at Menasha High School. "We've all ascended through our careers by starting at step one, and a welding education can be a launching pad for a wide variety of careers in dozens of industries."

Attendees learned that there are 2,900 unfilled welding jobs in Wisconsin alone and that 360 new openings are created each year with an average salary of nearly $19 per hour and potential salaries of more than $100 per hour. Further, there is an anticipated nationwide shortage of more than 200,000 welders predicted by 2010, which will only increase the demand and salaries of trained welders.

A major goal of the event was to encourage high school personnel to reach out to the industries and businesses in their communities to form partnerships that can improve the quality of the schools' technical education programs. Menasha High School and AZCO Inc. offered an example of such a partnership. Journeyman steam fitter Scott Meneau visits the welding class at Menasha High School as a guest teacher once a week and consults with the regular teacher several times a week to discuss questions that arise during class.

"There are things that the teachers don't know but that the skilled tradespeople are able to help out with, and that's going to help the students develop a deeper understanding of the material," explained Paul Koski, a metals teacher at Menasha High School. In addition to providing ongoing expert knowledge, the company also assisted the school in selecting and purchasing welding equipment, ventilation systems, and other materials.

The partnership has also benefited AZCO. Menasha High School senior Matt Spangler took advantage of Meneau's expertise and, after completing six semesters of welding in high school, joined the UA Local 400, and began an apprenticeship at AZCO after graduating high school.

"It's been pretty awesome having someone like Scott come in and look over your shoulder to tell you what you're doing right and wrong," Spangler said. "It's really helped me become a better welder."

The symposium was an initiative of the New North Manufacturing Alliance (www.thenewnorth.com), a consortium of businesses, educational institutions, chambers of commerce, and other organizations within an 18-county region of northeastern Wisconsin.



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