CHEBOYGAN — There's a rising demand for trained welders throughout the state and country, with the American Welding Society predicting a deficit of 400,000 workers by 2024.
However, some high school Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes are preparing students to enter the workforce and fill that need, including at Cheboygan High School.
"Students, ninth through 12th grade have the opportunity to take Metal Fabrication, Machining, Welding Technology, and Advanced Welding Technology," said Myles Fimbinger, welding instructor at Cheboygan High School. "When students leave any CTE program they are ready to enter the workforce as an entry level employee."
Fimbinger said there has been a large, apparent increase in demand for people who are certified in welding over the last several years.
"Students also have the ability to enter other areas that are in high demand as well, such as electrical, mechanic, construction," he said. "All industries which need welding personnel at all levels."
Fimbinger has been teaching welding at Cheboygan High School for the last five years. There are around 40 students who are enrolled in the classes at the school, and there are two other classes offered — including a CNC Machining course offered to eligible students from North Central Michigan College not taught by Fimbinger — in which students are enrolled.
The class through North Central Michigan College is offered through dual enrollment, which is embedded into the Cheboygan High School welding program, allowing students to earn college credits.
The introductory class for welding has around 30 students currently enrolled and learning the trade.
"In our introductory classes students have an opportunity to complete many different metal working projects based on their interests," said Fimbinger. "For example, students make tool boxes, napkin holders, chisels, punches, dice, 3-D figures such as dinosaurs, C clamps and many other small scale projects. Students also have an opportunity to perform repair work for customers."
Students enrolled in the program at Cheboygan High School are not just from Cheboygan, they travel to the school from Mackinac Island and St. Ignace as well.
"In years past, we have had students from Wolverine, Indian River and Mackinaw City," said Fimbinger.
By completing the program in Cheboygan, students earn certifications from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the American Welding Society Sense program, and the American Welding Society's D1.1 Structural Steel.
While enrolled in the welding programs at Cheboygan High School, the students learn a variety of different welding and cutting processes, including oxy acetylene weld, shielded metal arc welding, oxy fuel cutting, gas metal arc welding — including the spray transfer and pulse welding types — gas tungsten arc welding on steel, aluminum and stainless, and plasma cutting. The students also learn about flux cored and metal cored arc welding.
Fimbinger said the school adheres to state standards when it comes to the welding curriculum. The students are exposed to many different types of welding, as well as lathe and mill operations, sheet metal fabrication and resistance welding.
"Students also learn valuable skills in resume building, cover letters, customer service, and interview skills. We try to prepare them for an entry level job in the welding or construction type fields," said Fimbinger. "We also try and prepare students for continuous education at trade schools, as well as universities."
Students taking welding at Cheboygan High School use some of the most up-to-date equipment available in the industry, after the welding lab was recently renovated with new ventilation and electrical systems and new equipment.
In the shop, the students use shears, band saws, iron workers, cold saws, grinders, several types and brands of welding power sources and computer aided plasma cutting, lathing and milling. Most recently, they have started learning about robotic welding, and will be learning about welding camera systems.
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At the Cheboygan Area Schools Board of Education meeting on Monday, the board approved the purchase of a new welding trainer with a robotic arm and the associated curriculum from Purity Cylinder Gases of Gaylord. This purchase was for $73,500.
With many of the processes nowadays moving to computerized methods, this purchase will allow the students to learn how to control the robot to perform the welds needed. There are also additional, optional accessories the school district can purchase at a later date to go with this new machine, to provide more learning opportunities for the students.
Cheboygan High School has also partnered with the Industrial Arts Institute in Onaway, which offers a number of training and career options for those interested in welding, to create more opportunities for the students taking the courses. There have also been several competitions the students have been able to participate in.
Contact Features Writer Kortny Hahn at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @khahnCDT.