Welding puts students on career path

Photo by Jenny Kirk MATEC junior Holden Greeley, left, receives his welding certificate from instructor Brad Thomas on Friday during the MATEC winter graduation ceremony.

MARSHALL — With a certificate in his hand, Holden Greeley has a promising career path ahead of him thanks to partnerships that came together to offer a welding program at MATEC a few years ago.

By the time he graduates from MATEC next year, Greeley hopes to be working part time as a welder while also pursuing post-secondary degrees at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

“I really like welding a lot,” Greeley said. “I’m going to Jackson and finish off my welding degree. I think I’m going to go for electrical and diesel mechanic, too.”

Greeley is among several students who have successfully completed the welding program at MATEC.

“It’s a good start for a job,” he said. “Welding is a trade that they’re looking for workers in. Right out of high school, I can find a job pretty easily. Hopefully, I can go to school and work part time at an auto-body shop.”

Greeley completed the necessary requirements for the welding program offered by Minnesota West at MATEC, earning the certificate as well as 16 college credits and a few high school ones as well.

“The students spend three hours a day for three quarters to earn these 16 college credits for the welding program,” said Michelle Noriega, assistant principal for MATEC. “They also earn high school credits at the same time in conjunction with the Minnesota West credits.”

Ultimately, they’re potentially going to be filling the need for skilled workers.

“All of the adults who just finished the class are all employed,” Noriega said. “One woman flew to Texas the day she was done because she had a job waiting for her. And it’s $18 an hour in a growing field.”

Noriega said the agricultural sector has been in need of homegrown, in-house welders.

“They need people who fix and repair machines in-house,” she said. “They don’t want to send out or have somebody special come in. They want homegrown workers. They’re already a part of the community, and Schwan’s and others are wonderful companies to be part of, so if we can supply their workforce, it’s a win-win.”

Noriega added that MATEC also has a welding fundamental class in which students invest three hours a day, just like the longer program, but that it only lasts for one quarter.

“That one typically takes place in the morning and there are more adults involved,” Noriega said. “They’re trying to get the basics so they can get a job quicker.”

During his time in the 16-credit welding program, Greeley made a variety of projects, including two horseshoe boot racks.

“I made boot racks out of horseshoes and re-rod and then I made a shelf with butcher block on it,” he said. “It looks really cool after it was finished. (The boot racks) definitely turned out better than I thought they would. I’ve had numerous people in the class offer me money for it the same day I made it. I think the highest offer I got was $175 for the boot rack.”

With his newly-learned welding skills, Greeley said it took less than three hours to make. But he designed the projects with loved ones in mind.

“I gave the shelf with the butcher block on it to my grandma and a boot rack to my grandpa for Christmas,” Greeley said. “They were in love.”

Prior to coming to MATEC in the beginning of his sophomore year, Greeley said he had been attending Marshall High School. But the traditional classrooms weren’t working for him, he said.

“I was sitting in class too much,” Greeley said. “So I came over here and I got accepted into the welding program. You’re still learning a lot, but if you don’t like sitting in a classroom and like to be on your feet and working with your hands, I’d recommend trying welding. It might help you a lot.”

Last week, Greeley proved his welding skills to instructor Brad Thomas in a final test.

“It’s about consistency, basically, and the spacing in between each one,” Greeley said. “You have to go all the way across with just the same spacing — from where you start to where you end.”

Greeley said the toughest thing to learn is finding the right rhythm of it.

“If you’ve never done it before, it can be really difficult,” he said. “It’s about finding the right temperature and the right amps to set it at. It’s tough. It’s definitely a trick you have to learn, but once you do, it’s pretty easy.”

This past Friday, Thomas was in attendance at the MATEC winter graduation to present two welding certificates — including one to Greeley.

“You were a real treat to have in our class,” Thomas said to Greeley.

While Thomas served as the main welding instructor at MATEC, he recently accepted a new position at Minnesota West.

“He will be taking over Les Kvam’s position as one of the manufacturing and trade coordinators,” Noriega said. “Brad will now we coordinating and overseeing not only our program as Les did for Mn West but many of the welding programs in our area.”

Noriega added that Gary VanOverbeke is taking over at MATEC for Thomas.

“Gary is a local farmer with extensive welding experience,” she said. “Gary is already a well-established part-time and substitute instructor with our programs, so his transition for our students will be an easy one. We are happy to welcome Gary as our full-time welding instructor for the remainder of the school year. And congratulations to Brad. We are excited for him as well and look forward to working with him in his new role.”

Along with MnWest, MATEC also partners with Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council (SW MN PIC).

We’ve been working together pretty much since Day One,” said Eriann Faris, youth program manager at SW MN PIC. “It’s been a great partnership working with everybody.”

Faris said Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) funding allowed the initial program — certified nursing assistant — to get off the ground at MATEC a few years ago.

“We were able to pilot a summer program for the CNA — to get the concept down using youth competitive dollars,” she said. “CNA was going well, so it was easy to add welding. There were a need (for skilled workers), students were interested and there were employers at the table pushing for it as well.”

Through the partnership with ABE, adult students also had the opportunity to seek CNA and welding classes at MATEC.

“(SW MN PIC’s) Kary Boerboom is a our adult navigator,” Faris said. “She is the one who works with the adult students. They’re accountable to her just like the students are to MATEC. She makes sure they have what they need to be successful.”

Faris added that ABE’s Pat Thomas has also been “a big driver for this” as well.

“Pat’s focus is more for the adults, but she works really closely with the Marshall area employers,” Faris said. “She takes care of the employer engagement piece, like setting up different tours of facilities and doing some of those value-added things.”

Faris said no one knew for sure how the program would go for both adults and youth, but it turned out to be a very positive and unique experience.

“There were some people who said, ‘Oh, that seems dangerous,’ but it is so awesome,” she said. “There are students who are teaching some of the older ones some technology. Adults can have different perspectives, too, so students are learning from that. Right now, we are the only are in Minnesota that has this unique student-adult experience.”

Since filling the classes would help leverage funding, it made sense to include adults who needed skilled training as well. The decision ended up resulting in national recognition.

“All of the partners at the table have been asked to come to conferences, to share what we’re doing with other states,” Faris said. “We recently received the No. 1 award for promoting practices by the Minnesota Workforce Council Association. It was based on this youth and adult model we have going on.”

While the CNA and welding programs will continue on at MATEC, they are also being expanded elsewhere. Student in the Worthington and Montevideo areas are also benefiting.

A new electric controls program also began on Tuesday at MATEC. Additional programs, such as child care, may also be implemented in the near future.