In-House Training Program Helps Team Fabricators Develop Welding Talent
To deal with a shortage of skilled labor, Team Fabricators of Port Arthur, Texas, launched an in-house welding training program to recruit and train welding operators to become more skilled in critical pipe welds.
Addressing skilled labor shortage
Southeastern Texas is a hotbed of industrial construction and maintenance projects that require significant manpower, including welding operators. The area is home to some of the world’s largest refineries, in addition to many petrochemical and power plants.
Team Fabricators, located in Port Arthur, Texas, produces pipes and tanks for customers in all of those industries. The fabrication shop works to meet customer demands with on-time delivery of the highest quality products.
However, a shortage of skilled labor has been an issue for Team Fabricators. It’s a problem facing the welding industry nationwide, but it’s especially critical in the highly competitive region of southeast Texas. In addition, many of the welding jobs in the region require working on high-pressure pipe. Due to the critical nature of applications that use high-pressure pipe, any defects in the weld can result in cracking and eventual part failure, which can be catastrophic — causing ruptures, tank or valve explosions, or other serious incidents. As a result, codes and procedures for these applications are stringent.
“The amount of work within a 4- or 5-mile radius of this facility, there’s about 5,000 manned jobs going on. We just can’t find qualified people,” says Nate Jacobson, shop superintendent at Team’s Port Arthur facility. “On average we have about 15 welder positions open at any time.”
In-house welding training
To deal with that shortage, Team launched an in-house training program to recruit and train skilled welding operators. The goal is that many of the students will work for Team once they complete the 12-week program.
“It’s not a short-term fix, but in the longer range, we hope to gain their loyalty and have a steady workforce,” Jacobson says. “We are able to train people to our quality, our standards and our culture.”
Team Fabricators launched the program with grant funding from the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation and the Texas Workforce Commission. A training session starts every 12 weeks with six students. When the program first started, Team received about 10 applicants each time. That has tripled, with each session now drawing 30 to 40 applicants. The company looks for students with some welding experience, though it’s not required! Students must pass a certification test once each process is covered. The in-house training has been so successful that Team has applied for additional grant funding to expand the program from six to 12 welding booths.
“Once they finish the program, we gradually move them up in jobs here, and some of them are doing really well,” says plant manager David Cherry.
Paid to train
Team pays the students during training, which is one incentive to help draw interest. The program runs four days a week, for 10 hours a day, but many of the students practice in the weld booths during their off hours.
“We think it’s a fantastic opportunity,” Cherry says. “Not only are they getting free training, they’re paid to train, and then they’re pretty much guaranteed a job, if they can learn the skill well enough.”
The focus of the program is to create welders with a good base of knowledge they can build upon.
“Here with the training program, you get 40 hours a week. You can learn a lot faster than you will anywhere else,” says Joshua Desper, a student in the first training class who is now full-time with Team.
“I like the in-house training because it gives me the real experience that I need to get a welding job,” says Kyle Steeby, a student in the training program. “I was trying and applying for jobs, but they said I needed two to five years of experience. This was an opportunity to be paid to learn to weld.”
An easy-to-use system
Team Fabricators equipped the training booths with the Miller® PipeWorx 400 welding system, a multiprocess machine that lets students TIG, MIG, flux-cored and stick weld.
The machine’s ease of use is a big benefit for new welding operators. The digital interface makes setup and adjustments quick and easy. The PipeWorx also offers push-button changeover between processes. Once the operator selects the process, the machine sets amperage and voltage and provides a consistent, stable arc, so students can focus on technique and fundamentals.
“It’s so easy for a new student to come in and basically work the whole machine with just a little bit of instruction,” says Michael Lapeyrolerie, Team welding instructor. “Everything is preset. I think it helps a lot with them being able to catch on faster.”
Students like the ease of switching between welding processes with the machine and the reliable arc quality.
“I don’t want to sound overconfident, but it is kind of idiot-proof,” says welding student Anthony Babineaux. “It really helped me in the transition to pick up TIG welding. You have a lot of control over it, and it’s a lot easier.”
A welding training success story
The in-house welding training has been so successful that Team has applied for additional grant funding to expand the program from six to 12 welding booths.
“The largest benefit is that people who have gone through it are finding jobs and we’re using them in this facility,” Jacobson says. “We’ve had multiple different students who have excelled and become some of our best welders.”