Training new welders is the biggest challenge facing the welding industry today. The average age of today’s welding workforce is more than 50 years old, and the demand for welders is increasing every day — expanding this skilled trade is highly dependent on training a new and younger workforce.
Increasingly, more organizations are rising to meet this challenge. For instance, the United Association (UA) — a trade union that has been in existence for almost 120 years — makes training a primary focus of its operations nationwide. It has the first nationally registered joint apprenticeship program in the United States, dating back to 1936, and invests more than $130 million annually on training efforts involving approximately 100,000 members in more than 400 local training facilities at any given time
One of the biggest such facilities is UA Local 597 in Mokena, Ill. The 198,000-square-foot facility, which opened in late 2005, trains approximately 750 apprentices and between 450 to 700 journeymen in a year’s time and is open for training courses six days a week. The center trains workers for a variety of industries, including nuclear power, oil refineries, chemical processing, HVAC and steel mills.
Training programs at UA Local 597 give students both hands-on and classroom sessions during their apprenticeship program. In order to become journeymen, apprentices attend classes one day per week for five years in addition to 2,000 hours with their sponsoring contractors. The center also offer’s journeyman training and provides organized instructor training.
UA Local 597 is also proud of its hands-on welding training center. “We want to train both apprentices and journeymen on the same equipment they are going to encounter on the job site,” explains Mike Doyle, an instructor at the center.
The center features an overhead crane and two coupon-cutting machines for flame cuts and machine bevels, as well as 97 welding booths outfitted with welding machines to give apprentices in-depth welding experience. Training center students come out of the program trained in stick (SMAW), TIG (GTAW) and flux-cored (FCAW) welding processes, all key to the pipefitting trade.
Shortly after opening the welding training center, however, UA Local 597 needed to re-evaluate their welding equipment. After only two and a half years in operation, the machines they had originally purchased were beginning to show some major reliability issues. Staff found that the machines needed frequent repairs and were causing significant training delays.
“The machines we had simply weren’t up to the job,” Doyle says, “They couldn’t handle the environment and continued to be problematic".
Several attempts were made by the manufacturer to resolve these problems, but when they reoccurred we ultimately decided to replace all 100 units.
In early 2008, center officials looked to other manufacturers to replace the faulty machines. After rigorous on site testing, they choose Lincoln Electric and the company’s Invertec V275-S units for Stick and DC TIG welding.
The Invertec V275-S was designed with rigorous use in mind. Equipped with weather-resistant features, this stick and TIG power source is ideal for outdoor use — or use in demanding interior environments, like the one found on the training floor at the Pipe Fitters’ Center. An aluminum chassis, protective boots on switches and potted and trayed PC boards offer extreme environmental protection.
“We liked the construction both inside and outside the machines,” Doyle says. “The electrical components are better protected and less vulnerable to short circuits. Plus, the compact size fits well into our booths.
“We also liked working with Lincoln Electric. They have a sales and distribution center right here in Chicago, so there’s never been an issue with ordering, installing, training or maintenance.”
In fact, the partnership has worked out so well, that center officials are considering increasing the scope of their now Lincoln-outfitted shop.
“We’re looking to expand the facility down the road,” Doyle notes. “We have been so pleased with the performance of Lincoln Electric and their equipment that we intend to include more machines in our future expansion program.”