Welding: Forging New Connections
FVTC’s Welding program is a powerful resource for students looking for rewarding careers—and for area companies looking for well-trained workers.
The world of welding has undergone some remarkable changes in the last two decades. “Welding environments are much better today than 15 years ago,” notes Bill Berge, associate dean of Fox Valley Technical College’s Manufacturing, Information, and Agriculture Technologies division. “Foundries now are very clean compared to years ago when I was a shipbuilder. Many companies also have robotic welding, or at least have made the welding process semi-automatic, so welders often set parameters on a machine instead of doing all the welding themselves.”
Combine those changes with a growing demand from industry, and it’s no wonder FVTC recently added a third welding section to its offerings. That’s not all. The college is even offering a late-night class that runs until 1 a.m. to train welders who could not typically attend a session during the day.
Jesse Evans, 19, was so enthusiastic about a welding career that he started taking welding classes through FVTC during his junior year of high school. The next year, he took advantage of the college’s Youth Options program to opt out of his senior year and attend welding classes on FVTC’s Oshkosh campus instead. Getting a head start on a well-paying career was worth the daily 100-mile round-trip commute from his hometown of Richford, Wisconsin.
In May 2009, Evans’ work ethic paid off when he graduated from high school and FVTC simultaneously. His technical diploma in Production Welding
quickly landed him a job at Oshkosh-based Muza Metal Products, a full-service sheet metal and tubular fabrication provider for some of the nation's leading original equipment manufacturers. “I weld parts together according to blueprints, which is pretty much what the classes at Fox Valley Tech teach you,” Evans says. “So, I’m using all the skills I learned there.”
Welding is the bridge that Evans plans to travel to reach a larger goal. “My lifelong dream is to own a hot rod and chopper shop,” he says. “That’s also why I wanted to learn these skills.”
Supply and Demand
Much of the immediate and growing demand for welders is coming from the area’s construction industry, which includes recent pipeline projects and a nuclear power plant. Another factor is the physical nature of welding work, which is prompting some aging baby boomers to retire or move into different fields. But the need for welders is not just local—it’s regional and even national. “I have been at numerous conferences, and people from other states are experiencing the same demand,” Berge says. “Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development surveys show that welding is one of the fastest-growing professions. I see this trend continuing for at least the next two years, if not longer.”
That’s good news for Valarie Wojcik, 20, who recently received her associate degree in Welding
from FVTC. The Hortonville native got her first taste of welding through the college’s Mini-Chopper Build program, which is designed to get teams of high school juniors and seniors excited about hands-on career choices.
It worked. Wojcik was hooked after building a mini-motorcycle from the ground up. “Through that program, I learned machining and welding,” she says. “After it was over, I wanted to go to school for welding. I loved the Tech’s instructors and the campus, and it was close to home and affordable.”
Wojcik also enjoys the nature of the work itself. “There are so many aspects to welding,” she says. “I could be welding underwater or on buildings. And the best part is that the trade is great if you like to work independently.”
Wojcik is expanding her options by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Welding Engineering Technology from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan.
FVTC and Appleton-based Pierce Manufacturing join forces for an innovative training program.
Two years ago, Pierce needed a way to find skilled welders. Its solution was to team up with Fox Valley Technical College and develop a course that would produce qualified welders in a timely fashion. The course was a six-week program that included all the necessary welding skills to become certified at Pierce Manufacturing. Pierce found 16 employees from its labor pool that were looking for an opportunity. The employees completed the program with skills in blueprint reading, as well as steel, stainless steel, and aluminum welding. This is one of the innovative ways the company ensures a steady supply of qualified welders.
In a sense, the arrangement wasn’t new to FVTC. The college has been providing training and weld testing on an as-needed basis for numerous local companies over the years. “We do a lot of weld testing,” says Bill Berge, an FVTC associate dean. “We are a weld test center for the state of Wisconsin and our instructors are all certified welding instructors. We work with about 30 different companies to certify their welders to either an American Welding Society or American Society of Mechanical Engineers certification.”