News is good for central Wisconsin workers looking to pursue a career in welding.
Over the next 10 years, the demand for welders and machinists in central Wisconsin will be second only to health care, said Derek Heikkinen, business services director for the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.
“The problem that (manufacturers) are running into is there’s not enough talent in the talent pool for the supply to meet the demand right now,” Heikkinen said.
A recent manufacturing survey revealed more than 200 welder vacancies across central Wisconsin.
Northcentral Technical College is trying to do its part to meet the demand.
With the help of Miller Electric, the college last year upgraded its welding lab, including increasing the number of welding booths by more than 30 percent.
“Our entire welding lab was pretty much gutted out and redone,” said Darren Ackley, dean of technical and trades at NTC. “We had like 40 welding booths before, now we’re up to 53.”
NTC now has new or nearly-new welding equipment in all the booths and has added automation equipment to the lab, including three robotic welders, a CNC-controlled brake press, and a 3,000-watt fiber optic laser used to cut metal.
The college’s partnership with Miller Electric allows students to use new equipment for a three-year period, Ackley said.
“We basically have brand new equipment for three years that we don’t have to pay for,” he said.
NTC has also expanded its program offerings in the welding realm; in addition to a one-year technical diploma, students can obtain a two-year associate degree in robotic welding and fabrication, Ackley said.
The two-year degree can give graduates a leg-up in getting a good welding job, Ackley said.
“They’re definitely more employable, they’ll have a wider range of employment opportunities, and with that skill level they can make more money,” he said. “They can move up in the company quicker, is what I’ve been told.”
Production welding jobs in the region can pay between $14 and $18 an hour, Ackley said.
“In the Wausau campus, we take six sections of 17, so we can take 102 students a year in the one-year program,” Ackley said. “We’re probably close to that right now. We haven’t started our spring semester. That was real close to being full a week ago.”
NTC students aren’t the only ones using the upgraded shop.
A special 12-week training program offered by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin in conjunction with the Central Wisconsin Metal Manufacturers Alliance gives unemployed and underemployed workers a chance to attain skills and secure a welding job with a family-sustaining wage.
Thirteen students graduated from the inaugural class in September; another 10 will be completing training this month, according to Mark Borowicz, NTC dean of business and industry solutions.
Those graduates will have the opportunity to interview with local manufacturers in need of welders, like Greenheck, Crystal Finishing Systems and Imperial Industries, Borowicz said.
Aside from welding positions that are vacant, there will be additional jobs created when folks retire, Borowicz said.
“So there’s kind of that double-edged sword,” he said.
Filling all those jobs will require a deeper talent pool than currently exists, said Heikkinen.
Exanding that pool by reaching into the area’s schools, especially high schools, is a goal of the Central Wisconsin Metal Manufacturers Alliance, a group formed by local manufacturers in 2013 to address the worker shortage in the region’s manufacturing sector.
Heikkinen said two of the ways the alliance is doing that is through the Heavy Metal Tour, an event that gives eighth-graders an up-close look at manufacturing jobs, and the high school welding competition held in January.
Bob Dohr can be reached at 715-845-0660. Find him on Twitter as @BobDohr1.