WORTHINGTON — A collaboration between Minnesota West Community & Technical College and the Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council is helping to train the region’s workforce to fill high-demand, respectable wage jobs right here at home.

For the past several years, the Private Industry Council (PIC) has received grants to finance scholarships for both youths and adults looking to learn the welding trade. Most who complete the program can expect to find a job in the area with starting pay of $16 to $17 an hour or more, according to Roxanne Hayenga, customized training representative at Minnesota West.

Basic and advanced welding classes are taught in the former fire hall near downtown Worthington. Converted into classroom and lab space several years ago, the building is in use five nights a week in the fall, winter and spring as students learn welding fundamentals and blueprint reading.

Over the course of approximately 10 weeks, enrollees in the welding program earn six credits. Classes are four hours per night, three nights per week. On the other two nights each week, employers bring in students to learn specific skills related to their job.

“We have had students who have gotten hired at AGCO, HitchDoc, Toro, Bedford Technology … and Bedford Industries has also sent some of their own workforce here to be trained,” Hayenga said.

The welding classes were started about six years ago in Worthington, though Minnesota West campuses in Jackson and Granite Falls have more extensive programs.

“Jackson has the full welding lab, and that’s where the program is based,” Hayenga said. “We have a welding lab in Granite Falls, and now we’re going to have a permanent lab station here.”

Training the local workforce so it can fill available jobs here at home has proven successful, particularly with the welding program, according to Sandy Demuth, a career specialist with the Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council.

Several years ago, the council earned a grant to fund training for individuals in high-demand, high-paying jobs in southwest Minnesota — specifically in welding and health care.

“Because we’ve done a good job with the grants, they’ve funded us in southwest Minnesota repeatedly,” Demuth said.

The grants are available to both youths and adults, those who haven’t yet joined the workforce and those who may be looking to start a new career. Students who qualify for financial assistance can be fully funded.

“Sometimes we have people who want to advance in jobs where they’re at; sometimes it’s people who have nothing,” Demuth said. “We work with ... individuals that have been in trouble. Maybe they want to get some skills that help them get a job.

“We’ve had females go through the program — they’re excellent welders when they’re done,” she added. “We just try to help people be self-sufficient. That’s our goal.”

Demuth said the goal is to build steps for students. Once they complete the 10-week program, they will have the skill set to either find a job or advance into a higher level of pay, or they can choose to take the advanced welding curriculum and continue through to their certification.

There is funding to support up to 12 students in the class, she added.

According to labor market data, more than 200 people in southwest Minnesota work in a job in which welding skills are needed. Their median wage is $21.40 per hour.

“What I hear from businesses is ‘We need welders,’” Hayenga said. “Even if someone takes the basic class, they can get their foot in the door. In this region, we have a lot of opportunities to get hired as a welder — especially if a student does it well.”

A new 10-week welding class is slated to start Sept. 16 in Worthington, and enrollment is now open. Hayenga said she prefers people register early, as that will determine if there are enough students to offer the class this fall.

In addition to the upcoming class, a second, more advanced class is slated to start in January, Hayenga said. That class offers three credits, making it possible for a student to earn up to nine credits at the Worthington lab — more than half of the 16 credits needed to earn a welding certificate.

All of the classes meet in the evenings to better accommodate those who work or attend high school during the day.

For additional information on financial assistance or to request a scholarship application for the welding training, individuals ages 18 and older may contact Demuth at 295-5029, while those ages 16-24 may contact Hannah Oakland at (507) 829-1213. For class-related information, contact Hayenga at 372-3468 or email roxanne.hayenga@mnwest.edu.