Training the Next Generation of Welders to be Innovative and Make a Difference
With welding jobs projected to see a five percent growth by 2026, Horry Georgetown Technical College opened a $13 million, state-of-the art facility to support its Advanced Welding Technology Program to meet industry demands.
Brandon Haselden and Jeff Ball have a simple vision for the new Advanced Manufacturing Center at South Carolina’s Horry Georgetown Technical College: Be innovative—and make a difference.
“Oftentimes, institutions and facilities start getting stagnant,” said Haselden, the school’s associate dean of manufacturing and engineering technologies said. “We always try to think outside the box and try to do things that are going to have the biggest impact.”
Haselden, Ball and the rest of the team leading the Advanced Welding Technologies Program recently opened the $13 million, state-of-the-art facility on Horry Georgetown’s Conway campus to house classes and educate students.
“We have a wide range of welding needs in our region,” said Ball, Horry Georgetown’s chair of advanced manufacturing technology. “Employers are having a hard time finding skilled welders. We are dealing with issues that affect the entire country.”
With 51 welding booths and 25,000 square feet of lab space, the new Advanced Manufacturing Center will meet a growing demand for the best welders the industry can offer.The school had previously held the advanced welding and machine tool programs in a much smaller facility, with only 16 welding booths.
The response was immediate.
“We went from 16 students to running three cohorts of students simultaneously, with three different instructors in one facility,” Haselden said. “Now we have about 85 welding students.”
Those students are being guided by instructors who teach 12 classes over three semesters: fall, spring and summer. Courses include blueprint reading, safety, shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), gas metal arc welding (GMAW), flux-cored arc welding (GMAW) and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) on carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminum.
Class sizes are small, with a maximum of 17 students per teacher, so the welding students in the program receive the kind of close interaction they need for in-depth learning.
Every student who completes the program will receive a certificate in advanced welding technologies. But, unlike many technical schools, every course and every project is based on an AWS test in positions and processes.
“We’ve got a very thorough, comprehensive program here,” Haselden said.
Welding jobs are projected to see a five percent growth by 2026, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a unit of the U.S. Department of Labor. With much of the nation’s skilled workforce nearing or already at the retirement age—the average age of welders and machinists is currently 57 to 59—employers across the country need the expertise of a new generation of welders to help build skyscrapers, bridges and roadways.
Horry Georgetown Technical College revamped its manufacturing and industrial technology programs in 2014, with new classes and equipment for the first time since the 1980s. A partnership with Miller helped it all come together, providing students with new, cutting-edge equipment to train students on, so they can become the best welders in the business.
Now, Miller equipment in the newAdvanced Manufacturing Center includes the Millermatic® 350P aluminum MIG welder, the XMT® multi-process machine, Syncrowave® and Dynasty® TIG welders, a LiveArc™ Welding Performance Management System, and a robotic welding cell.
The equipment is “definitely user-friendly,” Ball said, “It really is a smooth transition to never have used some of the machines before to be able to operate efficiently.”
Every piece of equipment was chosen by the program’s advisory board, which is made up of the region’s top business and industry leaders and employers.
“The equipment was determined by the processes and the materials that the advisory board suggested they needed the students to be trained on for employment,” Ball said.
Added Haselden: “The students love it because everything is shiny and new. But we believe in teaching students on equipment they’re going to be using in the industry. For the benefit of the students, we make the investment.”
The idea for the new facility began to take shape in response to the success of the Advanced Welding Technologies Program.
In its first year, classes were filled and required waiting lists to enroll. Between the need for quality welders and the program’s high-level instructors, students had begun to see that enrolling was a smart move for their futures.
Ball said program officials “had to make certain we have qualified instructors who can teach processes as needed. The instructors moved to the classroom from the industry, so they know exactly how to tell students what to expect and how to train them to do every job right.”
All of the teachers in the Advanced Welding Technologies Program have at least an AWS CWE certification. Most also have a CWE and a CWI certification, which makes them experts in the field and uniquely qualified to train the country’s future welders.
The school now has a 100 percent job placement rate, which suggests that industry demands for more welders are being met, both locally and nationally.
“They are the face of the future of welding in manufacturing,” Haselden said.
The Advanced Welding Technologies Program at Horry Georgetown Technical College created a technical scholars program in the fall of 2014, the same year the revitalized welding program was launched. While the curriculum is the same, the technical scholars program is geared toward dual enrollment for local high school students from Horry County Schools. The idea is to attract students who had not necessarily considered a career in the welding industry before. Once they are there, they learn applications, problem-solving, how to think mechanically and how to build their own mechanical ability.
“Our goal was to retain two to five percent of these students in a welding career, in this area, so these students become the industry leaders of the future,” Haselden said. “They’ve got the capacity to become the welding instructors, the certified welding inspectors, and the welding engineers of tomorrow.”
A second Advanced Manufacturing Center is scheduled to open in August 2019 at Horry Georgetown Technical College’s Georgetown campus. The $12 million building is a 30,000-square foot facility that will be like the Conway campus location. Also, like the Conway campus, the Georgetown center will teach advanced welding, machine tool, robotics and mechatronics.