All they had to do was complete their coursework and pass a battery of tests.
Representatives from Ingalls Shipbuilding, a company that builds ships for the U.S. Navy, visited the year-old school in Kennesaw to seek out new welders for its base in Pascagoula, Miss. But they face a growing shortage of welders nationwide.
Four recent graduates of the Georgia Trade School completed two welding tests, as well as a written test on welding techniques, and were offered jobs on the spot Thursday.
Going home with a job
Eleven of the school’s students have tested for Ingalls since September 2012, and all 11 have been offered jobs.
Juan Martinez, 23, graduated from Kennesaw Mountain High School in 2009. He spent some time working at his dad’s Kennesaw taco shop, La Fogata, before enrolling in welding school this year. After bumping into one of his high school friends who had graduated from Georgia Trade School’s program and found work immediately, Martinez said he enrolled at the school the next day.
Martinez tested and passed the two welding tests Thursday, and was offered a job on the spot. He said he is planning to move to Mississippi in January with the other three graduates who passed the tests and were offered jobs as well.
“Whatever the stereotype is of a welder or trade worker is quickly changing, and they (trades workers) are having the last laugh, every one of our students has gotten employment,” said Sean Quinton, co-owner of the school with Ryan Blythe.
300,000 welder positions go unfilled
With the country’s baby boomers retiring at a rapid rate, many of the nation’s skilled-labor jobs are going unfilled, which does not bode well for big industrial builders like Ingalls, said David Cobb, a representative of the company.
“We are 300,000 welders short in the country now, and in two to three years, there will be 500,000 empty welding jobs,” he told a group of students Thursday.
Welding, the act of heating metals to fuse them together, is a 5,000-year-old trade first created by the Egyptians, Cobb said. It is necessary for building things like ships, tables and cars. While many factories are now able to do some minor welding with machines and robots, Cobb said there will always be the need for a person in a factory to put things together with their hands.
“The future of welding is outstanding. You’ve selected an outstanding trade,” he said.
Shipyards looking for workers
Founded in 1938, Ingalls Shipbuilding builds ships for the nation’s military. The company employs thousands of workers who construct multimillion dollar ships, many of which take years to complete. At the base in Pascagoula, Ingalls employs about 10,000 people working to build ships, Cobb said. He held up a picture of a $1.4 million ship that lands U.S. Marines across the world and took about three years to build. Another picture displayed an $800 million ship longer than three football fields that held about 1 million gallons of fuel.
Welders are needed to build these boats and there are not enough trained people to do the jobs anymore, Cobb said.
“A lot of people haven’t woken up to the fact that we are so behind on having skilled workers,” said Carlos Lett, Ingalls’ human resources director.
Amenities sweeten the pot
Cobb and a handful of other company representatives were in Kennesaw this week to recruit new welders.
As the school’s four students took the company welding tests, Cobb and Lett explained details of the company to the school’s students.
“Thank you for choosing the field you have chosen,” Lett told the students gathered for his presentation.
Lett described the jobs available at the shipyard. Welders are required to work eight-hour shifts building parts of the massive military ships, and were promised benefits, moving expenses and opportunities for promotion and pay raises.
Many of the students smiled to themselves and appeared shocked and excited as Cobb explained holiday and overtime pay, and the amenities on the shipyard base, which includes a gym.
Rejected by Marietta, but Kennesaw says ‘welcome’
Blythe and his friend, Quinton, worked in Atlanta for the Center of Industry and Technology and, when it closed, decided to go into business together to promote the craft of welding.
They had a vision: Open a private school in an area with a large student population and teach them to weld.
The partners, and Blythe’s wife, Joanna, struggled for months to find a place to open their school and were turned down from nearby cities including Smyrna and Marietta, Quinton said.
They were about to give up on their school when a Realtor suggested Kennesaw, and the two immediately fell in love with the area, they said.
The school opened its doors in September 2012 with seven students, and as of November 2013, had trained 81 welders, Blythe said.
In a warehouse classroom filled with 14 booths, the school trains students aged 17 and up how to weld, and, with its four teachers, has the capacity to train nearly 85 students per year.
It takes 500 hours of welding practice to graduate from the school, which can be done on a 14-week full-time or 16-week part-time track. Tuition nears $8,000, which includes equipment and materials. The school teaches from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. five days a week, and can barely train enough welders for the jobs available. Blythe said there is a two-month waiting period to get into the school.
Local opportunities abound
There is no average student at the Georgia Trade School, Blythe said. He has been surprised at the students who have passed through the school’s doors.
Not just high school graduates have enrolled in the school’s classes, but many college graduates have as well.
Many students feed from some of the county’s top high schools, like Kennesaw Mountain and North Cobb, and Blythe said many see welding as a better career choice than higher education, as it offers more opportunity than college degrees can provide.
“I knew we had made it as a school when we got a Walton High School graduate,” Blythe said, “If we can get Walton kids, we can get anybody.”
That Walton student, he added, now works for Ingalls at its Pascagoula shipyard.
With the addition of a new Braves stadium and the recent uptick of the economy, Blythe expects there will be plenty of welders needed for construction projects locally and across the state, not just at the Ingalls plant in Mississippi.