Meeting demand, MW adds mobile welding laboratory
JACKSON -- Students and staff will celebrate the dedication of a new mobile welding lab at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Jackson campus, next week, just two days after the lab welcomes its first crop of 12 students.
This will be the second mobile welding lab operated by Minnesota West, which has operated one mobile lab for the past 15 years.
"The driving force of this second mobile welding lab is the high demand for -- and current shortage of -- skilled welders in the manufacturing arena," said Dawn Regnier, director of customized training and continuing education for Minnesota West. "One welding lab was simply not enough capacity to meet the demand."
The mobile lab consists of a 53-foot semi-trailer equipped with a fume extraction and heating and air conditioning system, as well as 12 MIG/TIG welders with accessories.
The college has worked on funding opportunities for the welding program for quite some time, and in 2012 was awarded a $74,779 grant from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system's equipment funds to put toward a second mobile welding lab. The grant came with a stipulation the campus receive matching funds equaling the grant amount from private industry.
AGCO and Doherty Staffing Solutions, both of Jackson, were among 13 businesses and organizations throughout the region to contribute matching dollars.
"It really is a nice public-private partnership," said Regnier, based at the Canby campus.
"I believe that (businesses) recognize that there is a need in the area and that they found some value in the opportunity to access some state money," she continued. "They were willing to be a part of that to propel our welding training program forward. It not only meets their demand, but it helps to meet the demand overall, so our pool of welders increases."
The new mobile welding unit was getting inspected on Wednesday for over-the-road travel, and the 12 labs will be installed today. Signage will be added on Friday before the trailer is delivered to the Jackson campus of Minnesota West in time for the first class to start on Tuesday.
Regnier said the first five-week class is already filled, and registrations are being taken for the second, five-week training at Jackson. After that, the mobile welding lab will likely be moved to a new location.
"We do welding training all across the region," she explained. "We park it by college campuses or businesses -- sometimes we work with high schools. Our goal is to bring the training to where the people need the training.
"The demand for skilled welders has exploded in recent years," she added. "One mobile welding lab isn't enough capacity to fulfill the demand for the training."
Most of the students enrolled in this first welding class are considered nontraditional students -- individuals who are looking for a career change or displaced workers in need of additional training to get a new job.
"The majority of the people we have in our classes are men, but we are seeing more women entering the metal fabricating field as well and they do a very nice job of welding," Regnier said.
The welding classes, which start in the morning and continue through the afternoon each day, are led by a senior instructor trained in metal fabrication.
"We've recently been fostering some career welders for instruction," Regnier said. "They assist us in the various places throughout our region."
Most of the training students receive is hands-on. They learn different types of welds and work on welding equipment that is used in the metal manufacturing arena.
"They learn various types of welding techniques, and when they're done with the classes, they will be prepared to take an American Welding Society entry level certification welding test, so they possess the welding credentials," Regnier said.
Individuals interested in taking the five-week welding course may contact the Minnesota West Customized Training Continuing Education department at (507) 537-7051.
"These types of projects where we're expanding particular training programs are a direct result of the needs that employers have," Regnier said. "Many of the things that we do at Minnesota West are tied directly to the needs the employers in our marketplace have and they express that to us."
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.