Sparking a career: Certifications can lead to skilled-trade employment

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Justin Mullins found immediate employment after earning welding certifications from Wilson Community College.

Mullins, from Kenly, is a 2014 graduate of Hunt High School, where he had a little bit of experience with welding.

“I really didn’t know what I liked to do. I just like welding,” Mullins said. “I just jumped on into it. You just get a lot of hands-on stuff, you know.”

Mullins has been working toward obtaining basic welding certifications, and that has led to employment.

“I work at Barnes Metalcrafters now, so that worked out good,” Mullins said. “You don’t have to spend time in school. You get a head start sometimes.”

Mullins likes gas tungsten arc welding the most, but he is learning many other forms of welding that could make him a very valuable employee.

“The biggest thing we’ve got right now is having the students to supply the demand for jobs right now,” said James K. Hobgood, head of the welding program at WCC. “We don’t have enough students. For every one that completed this year, there were probably about four jobs for them to pick from.”

Hobgood said students often drop out early just to go on to work.

“It makes the program not look so well because they are noncompleters, but if you look at the job placement, it’s almost 100 percent,” Hobgood said. “They go to work somewhere or other in the welding field.”

According to Hobgood, it all depends on how quickly students need to go to work.

“If you’re coming into the program at minimum wage, and six months into it, somebody offers you $15 an hour and they’ve got a wife or a couple of kids or whatever, I’m not the one to tell them to continue the program,” said Hobgood. “They need to go to work. They’ve got bills to pay.”

Hobgood said there are a couple of places in Wilson that are constantly advertising for welders.

“These are high-end jobs,” Hobgood said. “One particular place, UTC, does gas tungsten arc welding, which is a very precise type of welding that is typically done on aircraft. The majority of it is X-ray welded and the potential of earning there, from the last I heard, is $27 an hour. In a non-union state, that’s really wonderful. Job placement is almost 100 percent.”

According to Hobgood, the workforce of welders is dwindling.

“There’s nobody out there to replace these gray-headed people out there. People are retiring. There’s nobody out there that wants those jobs,” said Hobgood. “They’re dirty. A lot of times you have to travel about. Some of the guys are working (for) $100,000. But those guys are just like me. They’re gray and they are looking for the rocking chairs someday.”

Most of the people in Hobgood’s classes are anywhere from 19 to 20 to the mid-20s.

“Sometimes I have the non-traditional one, which is somebody who has gone to work and then has decided to come back and better their skill and get something that pays a little bit better,” Hobgood said. “We’ve got certificate programs to where if someone wants to take the welding curriculum without taking the math and the English and all the state requirements, they can do that and concentrate just on core classes and gain a skill to go to work.”

The last semester of the program there is a co-op called work-based learning in which, for two days a week, the newly trained tradesmen can go to a plant and use that skill.

Evans Machinery and Wilson Ironworks in Wilson are participating.

“At the end of the semester, you can part ways or they can offer you a job using that skill,” Hobgood said.

“When you talk about trades, that is really the minority of our students,” said Rob Holsten, WCC vice president for academic affairs. “That’s where we need to build up the student enrollment in that because that’s where the jobs are. Those are good-paying jobs.”

Many times, recent high school graduates will either go to college or go directly into the workforce.

Holsten said it is important for young people to remember that they can take a continuing education course that can give them skills to secure better-paying jobs.

“If you can get a certification in 16 weeks and get a job, a lot of times, that is what some people are looking to do,” Holsten said. “We have a hard time in welding keeping them in there for the full year.”

It’s important to know because you can find a career.

“They can take very short-term, hands-on, skill-based training and you can get a job. They can go to work. It’s a start,” Holsten said. “You can always go back to school and improve and increase what you are doing, but you can get in here and do a short-term, one-semester course and you are ready to go.”

Tim Wright, president of Wilson Community College, said the college offers other opportunities in addition to welding.

“We have auto technology. We have some other things through our non-credit continuing education division. We have basic law enforcement. We have firefighter academy. We have EMT training. We have a number of routes which you might call non-traditional that are very viable routes,” Wright said. “There is really an educational opportunity for whatever station in life you are at. If you are a young single person and you want to get right into the workforce, there is something there for you. If you are a young person who wants to go all the way through and get a graduate degree, if you are a person in mid-life who has family responsibilities and you can really give limited time to it to increase your income, we have things that you can do for that.”

In some cases, it only takes a few weeks to get a certification.

“The best thing to do is give us a call,” Wright said.

Wilson Community College can be reached at 252-291-1195.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818