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School starts welding program for jobs

Area companies have need for new workers that students might fill.

The Ohio Hi-Point Career Center is spending $500,000 to get a new welding program off the ground, after hearing from regional manufacturing firms that jobs in the field are going unfilled.

The program, which would begin classes next fall, would initially have space for about 30 juniors and seniors who could either enter the work force after graduation or use the experience toward attaining a college degree. Ohio Hi-Point board members recently voted to move forward with the program after hearing from local companies that better trained employees are needed to fill jobs in manufacturing.

“One of the key areas we were missing and our business and industry partners were looking for was to us to get students interested in manufacturing,” said John Henry, career and technical supervisor at Ohio Hi-Point.

A recent review of Ohio Means Jobs, the state’s jobs database, showed as many as 248 jobs within 100 miles of Ohio Hi-Point seeking welders, Henry said. Another 288 jobs were listed in metal and machining, which could also include welding positions. Many of those jobs require a high school diploma along with some specialized training, Henry said.

The need for welders locally is also reflected nationwide, said Cindy Weihl, a public relations manager for the American Welding Society. Nationally, the average age of welders is 55, and those workers are retiring at twice the rate that new welders are entering the workforce, she said.

By 2019, the industry will need about 239,000 new and replacement welders to fill spots left vacant by retirements, she said.

Overall, economic development officials in Champaign County have also pushed in recent years to make area students more aware of the jobs available in manufacturing in general.

The $500,000 will be used to purchase equipment and upgrade the facility so classrooms can meet the program’s electricity needs, said Jeff Price, superintendent at Ohio Hi-Point. Initially, seniors will be able to graduate the program in one year, but it will become a two-year program for all students, Price said. It will eventually be able to accommodate between 40 and 50 students.

Numerous other area vocational schools also offer welding and are still not able to meet the demand for the jobs available, Henry said.

“As far as economic development in our local community, we need these businesses to have a workforce so they can continue to thrive,” Henry said.

Ohio Hi-Point is based in Bellefontaine but also serves students in Champaign County.

Finding skilled employees as a challenge for many manufacturers in general, said Jon Helman, a part-owner of the Rosewood Machine and Tool Company in Champaign County. The company is mostly seeking machinists, but Helman said in general there are not enough employees available with the proper skills to enter manufacturing.

Getting students to consider careers like welding will give them a start and help erase the stigma that manufacturing is a low-paying career, Helman said.

“There’s a stigma attached to manufacturing, and it has to change,” Helman said.

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