WCTC Launches First-of-Its-Kind Welding and Fabrication Apprenticeship Program

Written by: Asra Jawaid
Written by: Asra Jawaid

Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) in southeastern Wisconsin is making education history. The college is the very first to launch a comprehensive welding and metal fabrication apprenticeship program. Unlike other apprenticeship programs, this one offers hands-on learning for both welding and fabrication in a single program. The apprenticeship program was established as a solution to the ever-growing skills gap that threatens the future of the manufacturing industry. Because Wisconsin is home to many manufacturing companies and institutions, the state has been especially affected by the skills gap. In response to this need, WCTC created an apprenticeship program that provides students with the practical skills and training they need in today’s technologically-advancing world. According to Todd A. Kiel, Apprenticeship Manager, the program “gives us a full range of offerings that provide access to credentials for our constituents. With the increased demand for heavy manufacturing in Northeast Wisconsin, this cannot come at a better time.”

To ensure students get the best training possible, WCTC has developed its program in conjunction with the Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards. Just like any bachelor’s degree, the program lasts four years. This is roughly equivalent to 8,000 hours – of which 7,560 of those hours entails on-the-job learning. On-the-job learning is assessed using a combination of time and competencies. However, the program is not limited to hands-on training. Given the shortage of welders who have STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills, the program also focuses on these crucial subjects. One day a week, the welders/fabricators-in-training are required to attend classes in order to learn welding and metal fabrication theory. Because of the significant need for welders and fabricators, the U.S. government pays for one of these classes.  As of right now, six students and four local employers are taking advantage of WCTC’s program. The employers include GenMet Corp., Wisconsin Oven Corp., KHS USA, and Fisher Barton Group.

Welder apprentice, Jake Ritchie, smooths the edges of an aluminum weldment at GenMet Corp.
Welder apprentice, Jake Ritchie, smooths the edges of an aluminum weldment at GenMet Corp.

Students apprenticing with these institutions are on their way to becoming a highly-skilled and sought-after welder and metal fabricator. “A journeyman fabricator will be able to work in every work center at GenMet Corp. They will be able to lead a group or lead a complete shift,” said Eric Isbister, CEO of the Mequon-based company. According to Mike Shiels, Dean of the School of Applied Technologies Department, “modern manufacturing systems use robots, computers, programmable motion control devices and various other technologies. Advanced assemblers, fabricators, and welders must be able to work with these new technologies, and the welder-fabricator apprenticeship provides this training,” Shiels said.

Because of the high demand for welders, WCTC is searching for more apprentices and companies to join this endeavor. Seeing the value in such a program, various companies have delegated employees to WCTC’s apprenticeship program. For example, Wisconsin Oven Corp. of East Troy selected two of its employees to participate. The company, which makes industrial ovens used in many industries, wants to create a large sampling of skilled workers. Wisconsin Oven Corp.’s Human Resources Manager Laura Underwood says their next step is to do a youth apprenticeship program with high schools. Enrolled students will be able to enter the facility, see what goes on at the company’s factory, and learn their processes. Apprenticeship programs are crucial to closing the skills gap, and many institutions and companies across the nation are taking note of this fact.

The skills required for many occupations in welding and fabrication are best learned through the combination of in-class learning and on-the-job training. Unlike other fields, this combination is crucial for providing future welders with the tools they need to be successful in a highly-competitive and increasingly-technological field. Apprenticeships offer this unique experience for students. However, apprenticeships don’t just benefit students; they benefit the nation as a whole. In fact, apprenticeships in high-skilled trades are of crucial importance to the U.S. economy because they help welders attain those jobs that would otherwise remain unfilled. The skills welders develop and cultivate within an apprenticeship also help to create a nation that is industrially progressive.

Looking for an apprenticeship program? AWS WeldLink can help. AWS WeldLink is a career planning and management system specifically designed to bring together individuals, businesses, and schools in the welding industry. Use the site’s Find an Apprenticeship feature to locate a program near you.

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