The city of Odessa, Texas, has firmly cemented itself as the headquarters of the vast petroleum industry in the Permian Basin, an area known for its rich stock of oil and natural gas. Welding jobs are abundant in this region because it is a necessary process in the daily operations of the oil and gas market. Here, the challenge does not lie in the absence of jobs; rather, in the lack of trained welders to fill open positions.
“There was a huge, immediate need for welders,” says Jim Mosman, Odessa College’s Welding Training Center coordinator. “We did a study with the Permian Basin Workforce Development Board and several other organizations, and discovered the area had a real shortage of entry-level welders.”
Government funding supports Texas welding
With this in mind, the college, which offers a two-year associate degree program in welding, set forth to obtain funding to create a noncredit, fast-track training program to help boost the region’s welding workforce.
“While we do have excellent enrollment in our degree program, it doesn’t help potential workers who may not have a high-school diploma or a GED,” Mosman says, adding the need for skilled welders has grown immensely in recent years thanks to rapid growth of the oilfield construction industry and the retirement of numerous baby boomer welders.
The college received a $1.75 million Community-Based Job Training Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. These grants seek to strengthen the role of community colleges in promoting the U.S. workforce's full potential. The program builds on President Bush's High-Growth Job Training Initiative, a national model for demand-driven workforce development implemented by strategic partnerships between the workforce investment system, employers, community colleges and other training providers.
These grants seek to build the capacity of community colleges to train workers to develop the skills required to succeed in high-growth, high-demand industries and, in the case of the Permian Basin region, welders. Odessa College was one of 75 grant recipients out of more than 400 applications.
Thanks to the grant, the Welding Training Center provides free training in basic welding fundamentals, offering customized, noncredit training to novice student and adult welders, as well as workers who might already be welding but are looking to retrain or gain the formal training and welding certification they previously might not have received. The college runs five eight-week training sessions per year, teaching an average of 50 to 60 students in each session. “There’s such a huge need for entry-level welders that we hope to train around 500 of them in the next two years,” Mosman says.
The college recently received the American Welding Society’s “Image of Welding” award for Educational Institutions for its quality training program.
The latest technology
With the grant in hand, the college faced another hurdle: how to convert a vacant woodworking area into a high-tech, 30-booth training center in time for a January opening.
Their solution was partnering Lincoln Electric with local welding distributors Westair and Airgas. Funding paid for all of the training equipment in the 7,500-sq.-ft. classroom, including nearly $100,000 in equipment and consumables for student workstations.
During the eight-week session, students focus mainly on shielded metal arc welding. Once they master the stick process, students then get a one-week look at MIG welding and perform welding tests with this process.
“Those who finish their structural certification test can move on and start doing work in pipe welding,” Mosman says, adding that the course also covers oxyfuel cutting and how to use torches.
Safety comes first
Reliable fume extraction is essential in a tight classroom environment. The college invested $180,000 of grant money in two Lincoln Statiflex 6000-MS Welding Fume Extractors. These central filtration and extraction systems give welders a safe and clean work environment by providing 99.8% filtration efficiency of overall weld fumes. A single Statiflex 6000 unit provides filtration for a maximum of 15 arms, dependent on facility layout and weld station configuration. College officials wanted each welding training center booth to have local exhaust ventilation, so they installed 30 arms between both units.
“When you have 30 or more students in a tight space, the first thing you teach them is how to properly deal with fumes. We wanted the most modern, top-of-the-line system that we could have,” Mosman says. “Lincoln delivered both on the safety aspects and the technology on all the products we have running the center. We’re pleased, and so are the students.”
For more information, see www.odessa.edu/dept/welding/.