From Picnic Tables to Pipefitting in Alaskan Welding Program
Hutchison High School student McKenzie Burgess welds pipe during welding class. Photo by Peter Daley
It’s not unusual for welding students at Hutchison High School in Fairbanks, Alaska, to go directly into an apprenticeship with a local union or to get a job with a local fab shop after graduation.
Hutchison offers two full years of welding classes (with plans to add a third year) and an after-school Welding Academy that is a partnership with the U.A. Local Union 375 Plumbers and Pipefitters in Fairbanks, making the school an ideal training ground for students with an interest in welding.
The high school has a focus on five career and technical clusters, and for decades has had a strong welding program that emphasizes applications in structural steel, ironwork and pipefitting. Instructor Peter Daley, who has been teaching at the school four years and teaching in Alaska for 12 years, has plans to expand the Hutchison welding curriculum into a third year. Many Hutchison students already take a third year of welding as independent study for technical education credit. About 55 students in grades 10 through 12 take welding classes at the school each year.
“I have some students basically for three and a half years,” Daley says.
In the class, students learn the four major arc welding processes and have completed a range of projects. One student made about 75 ski fences for a local ski trail recreation area. Other students have created bicycle racks for a local elementary school, a picnic table for the botanical garden at a nearby college and a burning table for cutting projects in the school welding shop. Miller Electric Mfg. Co. is well-represented in the Hutchison welding classroom, with machines including Syncrowave® 250 DX for Stick and TIG welding, Millermatic® 252 and Millermatic® 350P for MIG welding, and Dynasty® TIG welders.
Many second-year students are able to pass various American Welding Society (AWS) bend tests for their welds and have them stamped by Daley, who is an AWS Certified Welding Inspector (CWI).
“I do qualification tests with them, prequalified procedures out of the code book,” he says. “It’s a foot in the door when they go to an employer in a fab shop or wherever. At least you know this individual has a little bit of time under the hood and can make a decent weld. It helps.”
An even bigger foot in the door for some Hutchison students is the after-school Welding Academy the school sponsors in the spring semester along with the Local Union 375 Plumbers and Pipefitters in Fairbanks and the Fairbanks Pipeline Training Center. Daley co-teaches the program, in its second year, with another instructor who is a retired pipefitter.
Students must apply to take part in the academy, complete with letters of recommendation and a strong record of attendance and punctuality in the school welding classes, and 15 participants are selected for each academy.
“It takes initiative on their part,” Daley says.
The academy students get a certificate of completion from the Plumbers and Pipefitters for 72 hours of pipe welding instruction. They also get elective career and technical education/vocational education credit. The academy provides more in-depth and detailed instruction than the students get in the high school classes, so it’s a good preview of what they are likely to encounter in the field. They weld in various positions and practice on 8-inch pipe coupons.
“They’re building on skills with more difficult applications,” Daley says. “They practice on downhill pipe, some uphill with low hydrogen.”
The academy also provides opportunities for the coordinator of the apprenticeship program to see the welding students in action.
“It is kind of like a work interview in progress,” Daley says. “Both last year and this year, students were directly entered into the apprenticeship program through the School to Apprenticeship program. It fast-tracks these students. They hit the ground running. As soon as they graduate — boom, they’ll be out there in the trenches this June working.”
The Hutchison welding curriculum, which includes industry field trips to local shops, plants, pipe facilities and mines, combined with the added opportunities in the after-school Welding Academy and the apprenticeship program, gives Hutchison students a great advantage, Daley says.
“The students understand all aspects of welding, drafting, fabrication, weld testing, NDT and career preparation,” he says. “Regardless of where they go, they are ready for the next step.”