A Call For Welders

By Marc Silvestrini, Republican American

Naugatuck Valley Community College and the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board can’t fix the nation’s economy by themselves, but they’re do­ing all they can to help address at least one prob­lem.

According to the Miami-based American Weld­ing Society, the United States will need some 200,000 welders over the next few years, because many of the nation’s more than 500,000 welders are in their 50s and 60s and are likely to begin re­tiring by 2010.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of welding jobs avail­able in the near future will be much higher if the range of the study is projected out by an additional four years. According the bureau, the average U.S. welder today is in his or her mid-50s, and there will be nearly 450,000 welding jobs available in the nation by 2014.

Compounding the problem,” according to a re­port that appears on the AWA Web site, is the fact that high schools, universities and vocational insti­tutions across the country are struggling to recruit younger talent to meet the burgeoning demand for welders.”

So about a year ago, Catherine Awwad, director of the regional workforce investment board, and Daisy Cocco DeFilippis, the then newly appointed president of NVCC, got together and decided to do something about the problem.

Their efforts will bear fruit on Sept. 20, when the college welcomes the first 20 students enrolled in its new 360-hour welding program, a non-credit certificate program in which students will attend classes four days per week over an 18-week period. The curriculum, modeled after a fundamental welding program at Asnuntuck Community Col­lege in Enfield, the only other college-level weld­ing program available in the state, includes 90 hours of classes in manufacturing math, 90 hours of blueprint reading instruction and 180 hours of welding instruction.

Completing the program will qualify students for entry-level jobs in the construction or manufactur­ing industry that require welding skills, said Mary Ann Fontaine, director of NVCC’s Center for Busi­ness & Industry Training.

While the Asnuntuck pro­gram is for credit and in­cludes additional levels of welding beyond the funda­mentals, NVCC is starting with the fundamentals pro­gram and will gradually build on this to meet the region’s fu­ture needs, Fontaine said.

“We know that a lot of our local companies are saying they need welders,” Awwad said. “And we also know from our discussions with econom­ic development people that one of the first questions any industrial company that’s thinking of moving into this area asks is, ‘Does Waterbury have a good supply of welders?’” Given the great demand for people with welding skills, we felt that establishing this pro­gram was something that would not only help people find good, high-paying jobs but, over time, could help make Greater Waterbury’s work force better trained and more attractive to any company that is considering moving here.”

The welding program at NVCC will concentrate on four basic types of welding: shield­ed metal arc, or stick welding; MIG, or metal inert gas, weld­ing; jig welding, and oxyacety­lene welding, said Brian Walters, the program’s lead teacher, who has more than 10 years experience in teaching welding, metal sculpture and race car fabrication.

Walters will be assisted by Angelo Petrolle, a certified welding inspector with more than 35 years experience in the trade, and Joe Demeter, who has more than 35 years experience as a certified pipe welder with United Associa­tion Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 777.

The college will spend more than $100,000 to convert Room 403 on the fourth floor of Technology Hall into a training area/lab for the weld­ing program, said James Troup, NVCC’s dean of ad­ministration. When complete, the lab will be outfitted with 10 state-of-the-art welding stations, each equipped with its own hood, he said.

In addition to the cost of outfitting the welding pro­gram’s lab, Fontaine and her staff have calculated that tu­ition for a 20-member class would need to be set at $10,112 per student to cover the costs of consumable in­struction materials such as gasses and metals, tools, pro­tective wear, books, utility/en­ergy costs, and the salaries of the three teachers.

It’s a very expensive pro­gram to establish and main­tain, and that’s where Cathy Awwad and her people at the workforce investment board really came through us,” De­Filippis said.

Awwad has secured enough money from the federal stim­ulus program to pay the tu­ition of all 20 students in the inaugural class, though stu­dents receiving tuition aid must meet income eligibility requirements.

To date, 10 of the 20 seats in the program’s first class have been filled.

Anyone who would like in­formation on the workforce investment board’s tuition program and its eligibility re­quirements should attend an orientation that will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Con­necticut Works office at 249 Thomaston Ave., Waterbury.