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Local need leads to new welding course

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| January 6, 2011 7:34 PM

Bridge parts fabricator Stinger Welding plans to add much-needed jobs to the local economy when construction of its new building is completed in the coming months.

In order to fill the new welding positions with a local, skilled workforce, Flathead Valley Community College-Lincoln County Campus teamed up with Stinger to create a custom-built, 10-week welding program that includes classroom coursework, as well as hands-on training.

Students will be able to take classes that count toward the first semester of the college’s two-semester welding certificate – which had only been offered at the Kalispell campus – while gaining skills necessary to obtain an entry-level job at Stinger.

“We’re bringing the welding program to Libby and customizing that training to fit Stinger hiring needs,” said Pat Pezzelle, director of the college’s Lincoln County campus.

Pezzelle said that, in essence, classes in the college’s original program were rearranged.

“We sat down with Stinger and said, ‘What are the skill sets you need in order to hire someone for entry-level?’” he said. “… We took those courses and we loaded them up front.”

Pezzelle warns that students who complete the program aren’t guaranteed a job at Stinger, but that it will give them a competitive edge.

The program is designed to accommodate up to 20 students in each 10-week session. Pezzelle said Tuesday there were five spots open in the first group, which starts class Jan. 18. The college plans to run four cycles between Jan. 18 and Nov. 4 in order to train 80 people and form a healthy hiring pool for Stinger.

One 10-student group will take a welding blueprints class and a math and communication class in the morning, while the other group gains hands-on welding experience. In the afternoon, they will switch.

The welding lab is contained in a 50-foot trailer with 10 portable welding stations that will be parked on campus. Students will learn a technical type of welding that goes beyond the average rod welding, Pezzelle said.

At the end of the 10 weeks, students will earn a total of 14 credits and knowledge to pass a national certification test that measures entry-level welding skills.

“They can take that certificate and it tells any potential employer that they have basic flux core arc welding skills,” Pezzelle said. “If Stinger doesn’t suit their fancy, they can take their welding skills wherever.”

Starting in November, the college plans to offer the remaining 14 credits of its welding certificate program for those who wish to learn more skills.

In order to add the welding program to the campus in Libby, the college had to make improvements to its electrical system, as well as hire a full-time temporary instructor, Pezzelle said.

Once the Jan. 18 cycle fills, the college will accept students for the next cycle, which begins March 28.