Over the past 12 months I've held tight to my plan to discuss the skilled welder shortage in my editorials. I've shared stories of companies finding ways to train welders and foundations trying to expose young adults to the industry. As a result, several readers have reached out to share with me their own creative strategies for combating the worker shortage, mostly by taking the initiative to provide educational opportunities for high school students.
When I received a call in late August from Doug Wilkinson, director of manufacturing at Reinke Manufacturing, Deshler, Neb., I was moved by the excitement in his voice as he spoke about a new welding education program geared toward high school students and adults. Reinke partnered with Cloud County Community College, Concorida, Kan., and Republic County High School, Belleville, Kan., to provide a two-year program that allows students to walk away with a D1.1 mild steel welding certificate.
"Republic County will actually be the only school in the country that will be training students for a D1.1 qualification," Wilkinson explained to the Belleville Telescope.
This project was three years in the making, with Wilkinson doing the legwork, establishing connections, finding able instructors, talking to government officials for funding, and even finding equipment manufacturers willing to donate equipment and other items.
Finally this fall, Wilkinson's labor of love came to fruition. An open house in mid-October celebrated the opening of the weld training program. Miller Electric provided the welding power sources; Linweld Co., a Miller distributor, provided the subcomponentry. Tillman Corp. donated helmets, gloves, and garments, while Smith Equipment gave valves, regulators, and cables. The curriculum for the program was developed by Wes Mosier, a certified weld instructor for Reinke, who will remain active in the program's development. Dan Stehlik, a teacher at Republic County, will oversee instruction for high school students, and Danny Fuller will join Stehlik as instructor for the adult education courses.
It is important to note that Wilkinson isn't just interested in finding welders for Reinke; he envisions his program to be a model for high schools across the country—a mass effort of sorts to educate both adults and students in the welding profession. It's not enough that this program is in place in his neighborhood—he wants to see this program touch every high school in the country.
His efforts have garnered the attention of many, including Kansas' departments of education and commerce, which have expressed interest in setting up similar programs in that state. Also, two additional high schools have contacted Wilkinson to get information to set up similar programs.
During this holiday season—a season known for giving—I commend all of the companies and people out there who have given of themselves to educate and inspire. And a special thanks to everyone who has taken the time to share with me these efforts. Please continue to do so in 2008.