Equipped for the Future
Welding projects made by students at Iroquois Falls Secondary School in Ontario, Canada, are not only earning them school credit, but also the opportunity to operate with some of the best equipment in their school district. Through different building and fundraising projects, instructor Dan Girard’s welding students have been able to purchase new equipment such as helmets, jackets and various small tools. Girard makes new equipment purchases a priority to keep his students up to date with technology they will be using in the field someday.
“I strongly believe it is very important to stay current with the trade,” he says.
In order to purchase Miller® auto-darkening helmets, for example, Girard’s class constructed a small trailer to be raffled off in the community. The money raised through the raffle allowed the class to purchase about half of the helmets they needed. After the success of the first trailer raffle, the next class built a bigger trailer to be raffled off the next year. They were able to raise an additional $3,000 and purchase the remainder of their 25 helmets, along with several jackets. Iroquois Falls is now one of the only schools in the area with auto-darkening welding helmets.
Girard teaches three welding classes each day for 18 students in grades 10 to 12. Senior students can take Girard’s secondary class four times to earn up to 12 credits. In 2009, the Ontario Young Apprenticeship Program was implemented across the province. This program allows students to access one of three college welding classes while they are still in high school. For one semester, enrolled students spend every day in the welding shop while gaining high school credits, college credits and 300 hours towards their apprenticeship. The Ontario Young Apprenticeship Program has been very successful in Iroquois Falls, graduating 30 total students in the three years the school has been participating.
In addition to the trailers, Girard’s students have taken on a number of projects that are serving local businesses, including rebuilding a complete 53-foot semi transport log trailer, repairing farm tractor blades and building eight new welding booths for their own welding shop.
“I don’t believe in students just welding on pieces of steel and throwing it away in the garbage can. I try to think ahead for what I can offer them that will really get them going,” Girard says.
One project that has been especially beneficial to Girard’s program is the construction of a mobile welding rig. Girard posted an online ad for the donation of a used truck and was given a 1993 GM 4x4 pickup. The students built the deck and did all the repairs and welding required to convert the pickup into a new mobile welding rig.
Girard purchased a Miller Bobcat™ 225 and a Miller feeder to be hooked up to the rig, and the students are now able to practice using the rig in the schoolyard. His program is the only high school or college to have such a setup in all of northern Ontario.
“We build and repair all sorts of stuff. Big or small, we do it all,” he says.
In another effort to acquire additional funds for new equipment, Girard’s class has been collecting pop cans from the school cafeteria and local restaurants. Students developed a can-crushing baler and collected cans for two years, eventually crushing 25,000 cans into bales that were sold for recycling money. This allowed them to buy additional tools and accessories for their shop.
Girard has been teaching the welding program at Iroquois Falls, Ontario, for 25 years and has developed strong relationships with many of his students. He has seen many changes in welding over his years of teaching and has noticed a shift in local industry from forestry to mining. Some of his students are already working in the mines part-time, and he does his best to prepare them to enter the workforce in growing industries. He sees many of his students go on to pursue welding-related careers, start in a college welding program, or go straight into an apprenticeship.
Girard says he fell into the welding industry himself 40 years ago. He was building a car and couldn’t find anyone to do his welding work, so he went to college to learn the skill himself. He has stuck with it since then, and can’t picture himself in any other trade.
“What I tell students is it is rewarding when you see something you have dreamed up come together as a finished product,” he says. “It’s a trade to be proud of.”