Area high school teachers donned welding gear recently as part of a pilot project that’s intended to help their students qualify for high-demand technical jobs.

The two-day welding training took place Sept. 22 and 23 in Minnesota State Community and Technical College’s custom mobile welding trailer. The six participating instructors teach in high schools in Ashby, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Pelican Rapids.

Troy Haugen, who coordinated the welding training on M State’s Moorhead campus, is the career and technical education coordinator for Lakes Country Service Cooperative. The cooperative directs federal career and technical education dollars for a consortium that includes 26 school districts and three of M State’s four campuses in west central Minnesota.

M State Workforce Development Solutions welding instructor Josh Heibel (right) demonstrates welding techniques with Moorhead High School instructor Jeff Schneider.
M State Workforce Development Solutions welding instructor Josh Heibel (right) demonstrates welding techniques with Moorhead High School instructor Jeff Schneider.

Haugen said that all six of the high school instructors already teach welding to their students, but the training will advance the instructors’ skills so they can earn American Welding Society certification. The teachers, in turn, will be able to prepare their students for AWS certification – what he calls a “one-up” skill that will give students an advantage when they enter the job market.

“The goal is for the students – if they desire – to have the skills in place to get an AWS certification,” Haugen said. “In our region, there’s a serious need for workers with strong technical skills, including welding.”

Teaching the teachers was Josh Heibel, who designed the custom welding trailer for M State’s Workforce Development Solutions (formerly Custom Training Services) division and travels throughout the region conducting welding training for industry. WDS and M State are “very excited to be part of this strong partnership” with LCSC and area K12 schools, said G.L. Tucker, dean of WDS.

Jeff Schneider teaches welding at Moorhead High School and said he has been through welding tests with varied employers, but “going through the AWS welding certification … is a totally different situation.”

“The techniques and certification processes…are very strict and prescribed,” Schneider said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn the AWS training and will be utilizing it for teaching in my high school welding classes. I hope we can continue this relationship … to continue working on welding certifications and procedures to teach high school students.”

If the welding pilot project is a success, Haugen said, the consortium of school districts and M State campuses may consider similar programs that would prepare high school students for future jobs in fields including manufacturing and health care.

“More than 65 percent of the jobs in our economy require some sort of technical skill,” Haugen said. “Providing exposure and one-up skills at the secondary level not only qualifies these students for positions the minute they graduate, they also have a leg up on their competition as they continue on by furthering their education and skills.”

As a member of the Minnesota State system, M State serves more than 8,000 students in credit courses each year in more than 70 career and liberal arts programs online and at its campuses in Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Wadena. By partnering with communities, the college also provides custom training services and other responsive training programs.