By David N. Krough, TJJD Communications

Welder 032124weldingThe American Welding Society declared April as National Welding Month - and students across TJJD campuses are honing their skills in what is an urgently needed trade amid a nationwide shortage.

Students in the Vo-Tech Education welding program are fortunate to benefit from the vast experience of the instructors at Giddings State School, Gainesville State School, Ron Jackson, and McLennan County (Mart)

“A lot of people tend to think of welding as strictly with regards to either construction or like oil, but there are so many other areas in the industry that people can work,” TJJD Vo-Tech Education Manager Connie Simon said, adding that welders are needed in offshore underwater operations, crafting, and landscaping, to name a few.

According to AWS, there are an estimated 82,500 welders that will be needed in the U.S. workforce from now until 2028.

That figure is reflected in the numbers showing the forecast growth in industry is only outpaced by the number of workers anticipated to either retire or change jobs going forward.

In 2024, 771,000 welders were considered in the workforce - with around 159,000 approaching retirement age. Welders under the age of 25 make up just under 10 percent of that workforce, according to AWS.

Certification from the AWS and National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) from a typical technical school can take between sixto18 months. VoTech students with TJJD have a great opportunity to get a head start on that as all of the facilities are on par with industry standards to start the certification process. Students aren’t required to be certified once they start, but it is a huge advantage on their way, said Simon, whose full title is Manager of Workforce Development & Education Reentry.

There are two certifications to start out, one from the AWS and a basic construction certification from NCCER.

When a student passes those, results are sent along to an AWS representative who can then help make it all official. It also counts toward high school class credit.

Stoking student affinity for the welding shop

Denver Foster 2020Gainesville instructor Denver Foster got his interest in the trade while at a young age working in his father’s backyard auto mechanic shop and later on, helping to soup up hot rods.

“(I) kind of got a knack for it … I wasn't sure if it was going to be wood shop or auto shop or, or metal shop, but I knew I wanted to be in the shop setting,” Foster said.

After graduating college in agricultural mechanics, Foster obtained his teaching degree and has been with TJJD since 2010. His students seem to reflect his own independent style of work ethic in the shop.

“They kind of turn into your right hand. You know, we don't trust anybody (at first) but you give them, I guess a little bit of freedom when it comes to building things, you can say, ‘OK, here's X, Y and Z - get this done,’ while I go deal with these other guys that are brand new or need help or whatever … You just kind of build that rapport with the kid where they understand what you're saying and you kind of understand what they're saying.”

In his courses, the students study and practice for the core NCCER certification, to prepare them for the dozens of other welding certifications one can go on to obtain.

“I believe very strongly in getting something before you get out (of TJJD). And so, they first rattle out of the box, they get their core (certificate) … it's a basic construction. And I always tell the kids ‘You might figure out you don't like welding, it's hot or it's dirty or you get burned … some people just don't like it. But this certification, you know, you can go work in building a house, you can work on concrete. You can do green energy, anything in the construction field. I had a kid leave out of here and went to work at Lowe's and with his certification and, and a little bit of tool knowledge, they wanted to make an assistant manager like right off the bat,” Foster said.

Welding GSS 032724weld7Foster explained that in addition to teaching the work and life skills, he injects a sense of community into learning.

He and his students have also been working with a Texas Veterans Day group since 2017.

“We do different cut outs and stuff and the boys always ask ‘Well, what do you get paid for this?’ I say, I don't get paid anything.’ They're like, ‘why are we doing this?’ I said because it helps the facility, half the money we raise goes back and it goes to a veterans’ and needs organization.”

“That's the thing in life, is you’ve got to give back. And so, when you explain it that way and they kind of see that you are doing what you say you're doing , then they buy in,” he explained.

This June, student B.P. will have been a student in the shop for one year. He said he plans on finishing his certifications and eventually wants to do underwater welding.

“I've always enjoyed doing physical labor. I've always enjoyed art and the way I look at welding is, I look at it as another form of art because if you don't do it right - it won't be right. So, you’ve got to have the right speeds, the right rhythm or you could mess it up,” he said.

Foster says he and his colleagues, Jeremy Williams at the Mart campus, Robbie Stork at Giddings and Terry Thomas at Brownwood keep in close contact about their students, along with attending vocational and education conferences.

“We've got a really good, tight-knit community with our vocational welding teachers,“ he added. “You know there are opportunities, so once they get their core, then they start welding. And we've partnered with what's called the North American Welding Group - it's a senior level AWS inspector who kind of has the same goals. We want to see these kids successful, and we want to see the welding (industry) be successful with these kids.”

Welding together more than a job

B.P. didn’t take long to answer when asked what he like best about his experiences in Mr. Foster’s class: “His sense of humor and his desire to help.”

WeldingMart BRK 4668 smlFoster helps his students at Lone Star HS North by emphasizing that welding requires precision.

“I'm a stickler … those welds have got to be just right-on, perfect,” Foster said. “It's human nature. To have a really, really good (weld) and it'll just be a little bit off and I'm like, ‘Hmmm … do it again.

He tells his students: “This is why I'm so hard on you is because at the end of the day when you get out, you're already behind the eight ball. Like everybody's ahead of you. You're going to have to work that much harder. So when you go in and have to do a weld test … you'll know how to do it, you'll know how to do it right, where the kid that, that got by (just) because his teacher just let him get by (may not).”

A welding certification can also have advantages beyond the workplace.

“For a lot of our kids, what tends to happen and this is - both female and male - they have a lot ofWelder BRK 4680 sml artistic ability (and) just haven't found the right outlet,” said Simon. “When they come in, if they get into an art class, you know, some of them will just absolutely blossom and, and they do absolutely beautiful work. .”

“We focus a lot on the employment part of it, but they really have a skill that they can use for the rest of their life, helping themselves, helping a neighbor, helping family members,” Simon added.

”If you need something at your house, you can build it. Or you got a free Saturday, you can make something and you can set it by the side of the road and (maybe) make you a little extra money,” Foster said.

“Some days are better than others.,” B.P. said. “Some welds are better than others, but it's still a work in progress.”


(Photos: Top, a student welding at Lone Star HS Southeast; left top, Denver Foster with a barbecue smoker his class built; right center, welding class at LSHSS at Giddings State School; left bottom, Welding teacher Jeremy Williams at Lone Star HS Central at McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility; right bottom, a student at LSHSC examines a weld he's made. )