Starting from Scratch: Building a New Welding Program | MillerWelds

Starting from Scratch: Building a New Welding Program

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The new welding program at Texas State Technical College (TSTC) features curriculum designed from the ground up by instructor, Kalli Ford, who also connected with local businesses to ensure the training provides students with skills to meet industry demands.
Students from Texas State Technical College standing outside the school’s new lab
Students standing beside Live Arc Welding Performance Management System
Welding lab featuring a row of Miller PipeWorx 400 power sources
Student posing with Live Arc Welding Performance Management System

Building a new welding program from the ground up requires hard work, some long nights and a knowledge of industry needs and demands in the region.

The process has been all of that and more for Kalli Ford, welding instructor at the newly opened Fort Bend County campus of Texas State Technical College (TSTC). When classes began at the campus in August, welding had the largest enrollment of the seven technical programs offered at the school, with 92 welding students the first semester.

“A lot of students want to go into welding,” Ford says. “They know there are good jobs.”

Ford, one of four instructors in the welding program, was the first instructor hired for the new campus and was charged with developing the curriculum. A graduate of the TSTC Waco campus, where she earned her associate’s degree in welding technology and an advanced pipe certificate in 2011, Ford was interested in making the jump to teaching after about five years in the welding industry.

In designing the curriculum, Ford called upon her industry experience and the experiences of other welding operators she knows. It was also important to her to connect with local businesses to make sure the program is training graduates that will help fill industry needs in the region.

“I used a lot of resources and just started from scratch. I had to think about what the students need to know and what they’re going to use out in the field,” Ford says. “I’ve got a bunch of welding buddies. I’ve been out in the field. I worked for a company that did just about everything, every welding process. So I’m pretty much taking my experience and putting it in the curriculum.”

The first semester covers three courses: introduction to stick welding, introduction to blueprint reading for welders and introduction to welding using multiple processes. Students earn a welding certificate after three semesters and an associate’s degree in four semesters. 

“I’m going to try to get them on pipe as soon as possible because pipe is so huge here,” Ford says.

The welding program has an 86-booth facility outfitted with machines from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., including XMT® 350 CC/CV welders, Dynasty® 280 TIG welders, PipeWorx 400 welding systems and the PipeWorx 350 FieldPro™ system with Smart Feeder. The classroom also has a LiveArc™ welding performance management system, which the students use as a training tool.  

“It’s such a nice facility. Everything is brand-new,” Ford says. “Nothing has a scratch on it.”

With 92 students enrolled the first semester, one of the biggest challenges has been finding more welding instructors to meet student demand. The program intends to take in as many students as possible and not turn anyone away. This means classes until 10 p.m. on some nights to maximize personnel and welding booths.  

“Next semester we’ll have to double up on instructors,” Ford says. “It’s definitely a challenge.”

The new campus is in Fort Bend County, along the Texas Gulf Coast just southwest of Houston. It’s one of the fastest growing counties in Texas, and the state is expected to see a 21 percent increase in jobs for welders for 2022, according to school officials. The region is a hotbed of not only oil & gas but also manufacturing, fabrication and petrochemical. The new campus is aimed at meeting the demand for skilled workers in the region, offering programs that include welding, precision machining, cybersecurity, HVAC technology and industrial maintenance.

Ford’s background in the industry, with experience in small tube TIG welding on exotic alloys and large pipe welding, has helped her take on the challenge of launching the welding program. After graduating from TSTC’s Waco campus, Ford began as a welder with Acute Technological Services, where much of her work focused on pipe welding for the energy and oil and gas industries. During her time there, Ford also worked for one year building the James Webb Space Telescope for NASA.

“That was my favorite job,” Ford says.

Raised by her dad, Ford grew up a self-described tomboy who spent a lot of time in the garage while her dad tinkered and repaired things. Originally thinking about a career in the military, Ford switched to welding in high school after discovering that she had an aptitude and love for it. She also heard that welders can make pretty good money, which was another factor in her decision.

Because teaching was another path she always had interest in pursuing — she taught her older brother how to weld — Ford jumped at the chance to help build the program at the Fort Bend County campus. Launching a new program means working from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. some days and spending her weekends with quizzes and curriculum plans.

Her advice for anyone setting up a new welding program? Be aware of every last detail, no matter how small.

“It’s crazy right now, but things are going pretty well,” Ford says. “I’m hoping after the first year things will be in place and be more settled.”