Lake Land College (LLC), in Mattoon, Illinois, recently created a welding school to promote work-based learning to its Accelerating Opportunity (AO) students.
The AO program, which is run in conjunction with Jobs for the Future, is a one-semester program designed to get students qualified and into the workforce as quickly as possible.
Each welding cohort has 12 students. In the first four sections, 10 or 11 students completed three sections, with five completing in one cohort. Of the 21 students who completed last spring, 15 were placed in jobs within six weeks. Entry-level positions in the region start at about $15 per hour.
Bill Brown, a welding instructor for AO students at the college, credits the placements to the college’s relationships with local manufacturers, which include determining their wants and needs.
Students get hands-on experience
A few of the students entered the program with prior welding experience, but most came in as beginners. In fact, most had a lower skill set than the average degree-seeking students at LLC.
“Typically, our students are more challenged than those who normally arrive on campus,” says Dirk Muffler, LLC’s director of adult and alternative education. “They do not have time, money or resources. They need to get food on the table tomorrow. This program’s 15-week training puts them in a position to work in welding.”
The AO initiative, which uses state money to pay instructors, allows students to complete the program with no student loans or debt. The aim of the multistate program is to provide practical training to low-skill workers and get them into high-demand jobs as quickly as possible.
“They have no skill set. The majority are hungry and strive to achieve. They really want it and are focused,” Brown says.
A welding program that stands out
Brown says it’s one thing to have certification, but that landing any welding job requires a hands-on test to demonstrate skills. “Our program is distinct and unique because of its wide range of flexibility. We don’t target one thing. We go out and do hands-on to develop their skills.”
Welding students make use of the shop at the local high school but also take field trips to Green Systems, which in turn has hired some students who have completed the program.
Traditional gender-based pathways meant that the AO nursing program attracted women. LLC wanted a program that would appeal more to men. Each semester, one woman has enrolled in the welding program, but it remains male-dominated.
Illinois does not currently have an approved state budget. Until the state budget is resolved, the program will be on hiatus. Muffler is optimistic that the programs will open again in spring 2016.
Learn more about Accelerating Opportunity.