Welding students are earning job skills

Published 3:04 pm Friday, April 9, 2021

The sparks fly when Lincoln County’s welding students are in the shop — and they’re not just from welding and grinding.

The bright flashes come from the intelligence and good-natured competitiveness seen as the high schoolers work to achieve certifications that will help them improve skills and gain employment.

The Lincoln County School District’s welding program began in October, with students meeting once a week, when possible, on their virtual learning days.

“They have volunteered their own time to be in the program,” said Bogue Chitto instructor Haley Britt. “They get no school credit and they come on their own to be part of this.”

Four students from each school — 16 total — are each now working hard to gain up to 36 possible certifications in welding skills. The students are all sophomores, juniors or seniors from Bogue Chitto Attendance Center, with Britt as instructor; Enterprise Attendance Center, where Mollie Goldman is instructor; Loyd Star Attendance Center with instructor Jeb McBeth; and West Lincoln Attendance Center, where Courtney Myers is instructor.

They are learning major details and procedures to follow across six lesson plans before attempting the pass-or-fail certifications. If they pass, they move on to the next one. If they fail, they can always try again.

Everything learned is a benefit to them and every “failed” attempt is a chance to learn more, McBeth said.

Students look over the plans then attempt a particular welding skill. They bring their attempts to McBeth, who checks them thoroughly. If they fail, it’s back to the work areas to try again. If they pass, McBeth signs off on that skill.

“I sign off on all certifications and send them to the North American Welding Group, who then sends certificates and wallet cards for the students,” McBeth said.

The cards have QR codes that can be scanned by potential employers to see all of that person’s certifications.

“It’s a great resource to have,” McBeth said.

“When these students apply for welding programs or jobs, they’ll have a leg up on other high school kids,” said Goldman.

“They’ll be multiple steps ahead,” Britt said.

Of the 16, two students already have jobs as welders because of their training — one at Pepper’s Machine & Welding Co. in Bogue Chitto and one at Boyd’s Steel Supply & Trailer in Brookhaven. Their experience in the school district’s welding program saves time training on the job and gets the students to real work faster.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth here and in other school subjects,” Britt said. “And they’re build tremendous teamwork skills.”

“They have to do their work in other subjects before they can participate in this program,” Goldman said. “We see a lot of camaraderie in these students. They work and hang out together and have become really good friends.”

The program is also a safe one, or as safe as a program can be when it involves power tools and flames.

“We cover safety before ever coming into the shop to weld,” said McBeth. “Everyone is pretty cautious and we’ve had no major injuries.”

Or at least nothing a little burn cream or a bandage couldn’t take care of, Goldman said.

Enterprise senior Josh Richardson, 19, had earned seven certifications by the time lunch break came around in the group’s most recent session. Bogue Chitto senior Andy Waller, 18, had earned 11.

Both teens are relatively new to welding — Richardson began in August 2020 and Waller started in October.

Richardson, whose father is a welder for Georgia-Pacific Monticello, already has a job with Boyd’s Steel.

“I do whatever they tell me to do,” he said.

He knows he is building lasting friendships in the welding program and said he’ll probably eventually work with his dad at GP.

“My favorite part is just coming up here and doing it,” he said.

Waller said his favorite parts of the program are the work, learning new skills and making friends. His favorite part of welding is combining metals. He hopes to go to work for a fabrication plant after graduation.

He got involved in the program because he heard there was good money in it and it was a good trade.

“And it’s fun,” he said. “It’s really, really fun.”

Students who have earned certifications include Waller and Richardson, Samuel Porter, Bryson Moak, Michael Kees, Will Smith, Zach Waldrop, James Weeks, Logan Bardwell, Ben Smith, Ethan Piazza, Davis Hart, Bryson Lambert and Carson Price.