February 7, 2007

New TSTC Program Aims to Fill Growing Need for Welders

By Mike Copeland, Waco Tribune-Herald, Texas

Feb. 7--What better way to bind a family than enrolling in a welding course?

Paul Hopkins and his stepsons, Brandon and Andrew Wayman, did just that. The Moody residents completed a 13-week program, and now they will work for the company that paid their tuition.

"We probably need a hundred more," said Rick Graves, an executive with Fluor Corp. It spent $5,000 a person to send 14 people through the course at Texas State Technical College.

Fluor, based in Irving, has grown into a multibillion-dollar engineering, construction and maintenance company. Like other companies, it needs people skilled in the building crafts.

But they are hard to find these days, especially welders.

"Nationwide, there is a 200,000-person shortage of skilled welders," said Graves, adding that the average age of good welders today is 45 to 47 years old. Young people seem to be moving into other areas.

Which is why Fluor paid to have TSTC offer a special class.

The graduates first will work at the TXU electric generating plant near Tatum. They then will be offered work at TXU's Big Brown plant in Fairfield. Fluor is performing tasks at both places.

Hopkins, 42, left a truck-driving job to take the welding course.

Andrew Wayman, 20, has dabbled in welding, but he wanted more training and the job with Fluor that went with it.

Each will make about $21 an hour as starting welders.

Brandon Wayman, 24, received an associate's degree in welding from TSTC, then took the 13-week course as a refresher.

He expects to make close to $25 an hour working for Fluor.

Colin Wise, 20, of Hillsboro, heard about the quick welding course at TSTC "and jumped on board" because he liked the idea of Fluor paying for his schooling and offering him a job afterward.

Not only will Wise make close to $21 an hour, he said, but Fluor has offered him a per diem to cover the cost of lodging in Tatum.

Elton E. Stuckly Jr., president of TSTC-Waco, said offering courses that meet specific industry needs has become a priority for him.

Stuckly said he finds it disturbing that the United States has to import workers to meet the demands of industry.

"This is Texas, home of the biggest and best," he said. "We ought to meet the needs of these companies. I think TSTC is doing its part."

TSTC, for example, continues to offer a subsea robotics program. Its graduates are highly prized by oil and gas companies because they can operate robots thousands of feet below the water's surface. The school soon will begin the 90-Day Fast Track RV Technician Program. It will train people to check out and perform maintenance or repairs on plumbing, air-conditioning systems, appliances and power plants in recreational vehicles.

Such RV technicians are in demand, says the Texas Recreational Vehicle Association, because RV sales are climbing. Starting wages for RV technicians can run $12 to $15 an hour and grow to $25 an hour in some markets.

In March, TSTC will collaborate with The Dwyer Group, a Waco-based franchising company, to offer a 10-week appliance repair course.

"The trend is to give people what they need quickly," Stuckly said, "and then to get them into the workforce."

TSTC also has programs, though not necessarily quick ones, to perform training specifically requested by Caterpillar, DaimlerChrysler, John Deere, L-3 Communications and Toyota Motor Corp.

L-3 Communications, which employs 1,700 at its Waco plant, relies upon TSTC to train aircraft mechanics. It reimburses students for their tuition and books, gives them part-time employment while they are attending school and contracts with them for two years of employment.

"We tell every company we work with about the training opportunities at TSTC and at McLennan Community College," said Jim Vaughan, president of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. "TSTC trains people for local jobs but also for jobs with companies all over the world.

"We think that gives us a competitive advantage," when the Waco chamber is pursuing industrial prospects, said Vaughan.


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