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Minnesota West creates welding program

JACKSON -- Money and gasoline have been in short supply recently, but little attention has been given to another shortage particular to southwest Minnesota -- the shortage of welders.

As a result of the high demand for welders, Minnesota West Community and Technical College will offer a short-term welding technology program from its Jackson campus, with a likely start date in September.

"They tell me AgCo is in need of 20 to 25 welders ASAP," said Jim Grove, Jackson campus CEO. "This is how critical that demand is."

Grove and Dennis Hampel, the Dean of Career and Technical Education, are both part of the Jackson Economic Development Corporation, where the local industry brought their attention to the critical shortage of welders.

"Both of us being employees of Minnesota West, why we started taking that shortage pretty seriously," Grove recalled. "That's how it got started, was with a cry for help."

Most manufacturers in the area require welders, and many have been forced to hire people from Utah and Texas because of the shortage.

Two years ago, Minnesota West investigated the possibility of a welding program, and even assembled local industry leaders to find out what the program should include, Hampel said. They hired an agriculture instructor to write the curriculum, which was then approved by the state.

Unfortunately, what Minnesota West didn't have at that time was funding.

"There are some real facility issues when you're developing a welding program. You have to have that facility and that equipment," Hampel said.

Minnesota West didn't have them two years ago.

In fact, the school still doesn't have them. Instead, Minnesota West will partner with Jackson County Central to use its high school welding and metals lab. AgCo is another partner in the venture and will likely supply some equipment to the new welding program.

Minnesota West is searching for an instructor for the program, and has scheduled two informational meetings for anyone interested in becoming a welder, one at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 11 and the other at 10 a.m. Aug. 12, at the Jackson campus of Minnesota West.

The welding certification program will be a 30-credit program covering all aspects of welding that can be completed in two semesters. The advanced welding associate's degree will be a 64-credit, two-year degree including training in fixture layout, fabrication and repair.

Welding classes will likely be scheduled in the evenings, allowing students to work during the day.

Some adjustments have been made and the curriculum of two years ago has been updated. They will likely be added to the college's Web site,, by August.

Grove, Hampel and area manufacturers hope there is enough interest to get the program going.

"Once you become a certified welder... they make really good money," Grove said.