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Fast-track training of welders heartens manufacturers

NNBW staff

Linda Devon says employers’ eyes light up when she tells them that a Western Nevada College program in Fallon will produce skilled welders in 14 weeks.

“The enthusiasm for the program has been pretty overwhelming,” says Devon, who works closely with manufacturers in her role with the Workforce Development Center at the college.

An accelerated welding class begins at the Fallon campus next week and expects to produce graduates ready to take welding-certification examinations in early May.

The students, Devon says, will meet four days a week for six-hour sessions. They’ll spend 45 minutes in the classroom each morning, followed by intensive sessions with newly purchased equipment in a welding laboratory.

“Every day they will be learning something new and practicing that,” Devon says. “We’ll give them the experience they need to get their foot in the door.”

And there are plenty of doors awaiting feet.

Manufacturing executives and economic developers say the availability of skilled workers such as welders is a near-continual worry, both for existing companies that are looking to expand as well as manufacturers looking to move to the region.

Dave Steiger, the director of economic development for Western Nevada College, says that enrollment in welding classes in Fallon has been strong ever since the classes were resumed after a hiatus that resulted from budget cuts.

Ray Hockemier, who teaches the classes, says the same recession that caused the budget cuts is playing a role in the strong enrollment.

“With the economy the way it is, people are realizing that they need to get a skill under their belt that they can take with them in the future,” Hockemier says. Students, he says, range from teens who want to learn a marketable skill to middle-aged workers who want to build the skills they can offer to an employer.

“We have a lot of fun learning to weld, and there’s not a lot of pressure,” the instructor says. “We give more to each student as they can take it.”

Hockemier, a welder for 40 years and owner of Ray’s Welding in Fallon for 15 years, says school officials also have talked about adding on-site classes at mills and mines in the area. The Fallon lab includes 14 welding stations that provide students with access to wire feed welders, stick welders, cutting torches and gas or oxy acetylene welding.