Welding on Wheels

Welding on WheelsIf people can’t get to a classroom, why not bring the classroom to them?

That’s what First Institute Training & Management of Illinois is doing to combat the skills gap. Their mobile welding classroom is working, and it’s starting to attract attention.

The Welding on Wheels lab is a trailer, roughly the size of a bus, housing four welding stations for students. Executive director, Kurt Beier, told the Omaha World Herald that the lab can train up to eight students on entry-level welding positions in five weeks for about $45,000 plus expenses.

“We’ll drive it to you — to a school, to a company,” Beier said. “All we need is a restroom. That’s the only thing it doesn’t have.”

Welding on Wheels Motivates Students in Omaha
Last month, the mobile training facility was invited to Omaha by Accelerate Nebraska, a nonprofit aimed at ensuring high school and college students have employable skills. The institute’s visit was also facilitated by the Avenue Scholars Foundation, helping at-risks youths finish school, go to college and get jobs.

The visit was a hit.

Inside the Welding on Wheels lab.
Inside the Welding on Wheels lab.

Accelerate Nebraska representatives and Avenue Scholars offered five tours of the mobile class throughout the day. Nearly 70 people participated.

Educators said that watching sparks fly within the brightly colored lab can motivate young people who want to work with their hands or have a career that offers advancement and pays well.

Employers see the potential as well. Steve Rogers, who oversees the day-to-day operations at Valmont Industries’ welding and fabrication shop, told the Omaha World Herald a mobile lab could benefit his company.

“When we are very busy, it is very difficult to fill the demand for welders. We’ve started our own training facility,” but the addition of a mobile lab would allow entry level workers to “learn a trade faster,” Rogers said.

“We’re really interested in this,” said Steve Deane, who oversees corporate quality at Lozier Corp. in Omaha. Lozier manufactures store fixtures. “We struggle with getting trained people.”

The lab would give employees the basics quickly, Deane said, and from there the company could fine-tune their skills to meet company-specific needs.

Welding on Wheels Graduates
Graduates from the Welding on Wheels program.

Welding on Wheels Works
The Welding on Wheels course runs eight hours per day, five days a week for five weeks. Students learn welding techniques, safety procedures and blue print reading, and typically receive an entry-level welding certificate upon completion.

Bringing the classroom to the student has several benefits. As evidenced by the lab’s recent visit to Nebraska, it helps encourage students who may not have become welders at all to unleash their potential. The Welding on Wheels fast-track program also provides entry level employees with basic skills that employers can build on. The students, in turn, avoid the lower wages and career stagnation that less skilled workers face in the bottom tier of manufacturing jobs.

The mobile classroom is also a prime example of the ways in which the private sector can help alleviate shortages of welders with specialized skills. Generating employer participation in the career development of its employees is critical in overcoming the skilled labor shortage, especially in the midst of an economic crisis that may limit workers’ abilities to invest in themselves.

Let us know what you think about mobile welding labs in the comments below.