Earning Apprentice Hours in the Classroom Welding Lab at Arkansas University Campus

Earning Apprentice Hours in the Classroom Welding Lab at Arkansas University Campus

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In the welding labs at the Arkansas State University Beebe – Searcy campus, welding students are finding that they're not just earning credit for schoolwork — undergraduates are able to receive apprenticeship credit toward becoming journeyman welders. The nationwide need for skilled operators has the school, local unions and area businesses working together to fill a critical need.

Earning Apprentice Hours in the Classroom Welding Lab at Arkansas University Campus

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The ASU Searcy welding program provides training in all areas of welding, including plate and pipe welding. The students share a 22-cell lab facility and are able to gain a certificate or associate degree. The eight credit-hour class provides certification in Metal Inert Gas Welding, Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, Gas Metal Arc Welding, Shielded Metal Arc Welding and Metal Fabrication. The 30 credit-hour technical certificate or associate degree program is where students can leap ahead in the job market and gain an edge in their professional career.

“This program with the local pipefitters allows my students to enter into the field of welding already on the move toward a lifelong career,” says John Reed, instructor, ASU Searcy.

Reed has been training new welders ever since lifting his hood for the last time as a United States Naval welder in 1985. Reed has spent the last 28 years concentrating on teaching his students how to earn the certificate that will help them find a job at the end of their school career.

Recently Reed began working with the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Service Techs Local Union 155 to allow students to earn apprenticeship credit toward a journeyman’s card. The road to journeyman usually involves a full-time job and taking classes during free time. Generally it takes up to five years to accomplish the distinction. Thanks to the program students are able to shave up two years off the road to journeyman. 

“The working relationship with the 155 has been great,” says Reed. “The students receive apprenticeship hours for the training they receive while in the classroom. They are earning a degree or certification and gaining ground in the workplace.”

Students go through the usual process for entry into an apprenticeship, including the submission of an application and an interview process before a union review board. Even then the student must prove his proficiency at the end of his formal education to receive full credit. The testing includes welding, cutting, math and general knowledge about welding. The union then gives the qualified students credit for class time they have spent at ASU Searcy, reducing the apprenticeship time by one to two years.

“There’s a real need in the workplace for skilled welders,” says Todd Parent, organizer, Local Union 155. “We felt it was important to actively encourage young people to learn the skill and see the kind of good pay and quality lifestyle a journeyman welder is able to attain.”

Parent is pressed on a daily basis by employers and contractors to find qualified pipe welders. With a rapidly aging workforce, the need for certified pipe welders in the nuclear, oil and gas, and shipbuilding industries of Arkansas grows every week. The 155 made the decision to speed up the process of attaining journeyman status while maintaining the high standards of the status.

“The UA is focused on pipe welders. We must meet the demand of the community,” says Parent. “I have a stack of jobs right now. By reaching out to these young people, we’re saying, ‘We want you!’”

The rubber now hits the road for many of the 2013 welding class who are now graduating. But another crop of young people will be making their way to the ASU Searcy lab and its host of real-world welding machines come fall. The school’s wide lineup of Miller® products — including Dimension 452s, Shopmate 300DXs DialArc 250s, and AC/DC Syncrowave 250 DXs and 180 SDs — will help instructor Reed’s students accomplish what he sets out for them to accomplish every semester.

“Our focus is in helping students find jobs — it’s why we teach,” says Reed. “We train the students to meet our local industries’ needs. With several fabrication facilities, the nuclear industry and pipeline companies in our area, they know they can count on an ASU graduate when he comes along, thanks to our curriculum and the backing of the 155.”

Local 155’s effort to encourage young people to weld doesn’t stop at the post-secondary level. The union is also actively encouraging even younger people to become active welders through the Boy Scouts of America and its new Welding merit badge. The badge, released by the BSA in 2012 with assistance from the American Welding Society, is fast taking hold across the country.

In the Little Rock area, the 155 will help 26 Scouts earn their Welding Merit Badges from the BSA. The one-day Saturday event will allow the 11- to 14-year-old Scouts to meet all the requirements of the badge in one shot. And maybe, just maybe, begin a lifelong commitment to welding.

Published: April 10, 2013
Updated: February 5, 2020