Gretchen Salois Portrait

From the
Senior Editor




t’s no revelation that the talent pool for the fabrication industry is waning. As fabricators retire, there are not enough bodies to fill those job openings. Automation and other technologies have evolved the type of responsibilities fabricators now have on the shop floor, but the need for actual people remains.

Educational institutions are working with industry to help teach students who will leave the class and laboratory as a wellrounded prospect, capable of operating a press brake or welding or inspecting a secure seam while also understanding the importance of being a reliable employee by showing up on time and performing as part of a team.

Classrooms look different this year. COVID-19 led some fabrication instructors to teach courses exclusively online or it forced them to stagger classes or space in the lab during in-person sessions to avoid spreading the virus.

In this month’s cover story (Page 28), FFJournal asks schools around the U.S. how they are balancing in-person and remote sessions to teach students the foundation of metallurgy, how to lay a weld seam, grind away a sharp edge or be able to accurately read a tape measure.

In-person instruction is integral to a student’s overall skills development at Purdue University Northwest (PNW), Hammond, Indiana, which engages with industry partners to help teach a multitude of skill sets.

“Small to medium-sized employers are looking for a worker who can take on more ownership in the project or process,” says James B. Higly, professor of mechanical engineering technology at PNW. “Having some CAD, design and fabrication skill sets allow employees to engage in more project management and oversight and not just simply work in silos.”

Other institutions like American River College in Sacramento, California, postponed in-person classes altogether. “This fall, we’re offering online classes for our most basic courses like intro to welding, metallurgy—courses that build the foundation of knowledge but come before the more advanced welding classes,” says Adjunct Welding Professor Jose Bueno.

Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, uses Zoom for video conferencing and Canvas for classwork. “Zoom works well but instruction via Zoom is not as effective as in-person teaching,” says Daren Davis, senior instructor. “You can’t see a student’s body language, facial expression, etc., which are good indicators of understanding. It’s much harder for students to participate in lectures in a virtual environment.”

Industry demand for new blood remains, however, because many manufacturing and fabrication operations are open and running as essential businesses. “This has helped educate the public about how welding careers can help them navigate many employment challenges that other careers are now facing,” says says Chris Schuler, director of training for Tulsa Welding School in Oklahoma. “As a result, our enrollment has continued steadily throughout this time, which is good for those in need of career options now and in the future.”

The interest is there, and instructors continue to think on their feet about ways to adapt as rules and guidelines change and the ever-looming possibility that exposure brings all in-person instruction to a halt.

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