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Where There’s a Will, There’s a Weld


Welding

By Joel Wood • Photos supplied


In April 2021, the North Country Chamber of Commerce received a call from the Welding Coordinator at Alstom’s Plattsburgh facility to discuss an urgent need that had presented itself. Over the next five years, Alstom would need approximately 50 trained welders to complete a contract for New Jersey Transit for approximately 138 multilevel rail cars. Time was of the essence.


While multiple solutions were explored — none were deemed feasible, practical or able to solve the problem. In the past, welders had been recruited from outside the area, but finding skilled welders was difficult and convincing them to relocate was even harder. The idea of creating an in-house welding program was also discussed, but quickly discarded as it was deemed expensive and duplicative of training facilities at CV-TEC and Clinton Community College that were already available in the community.

Ultimately, it was decided a welding training program should be run at Clinton Community College’s (CCC) Institute for Advanced Manufacturing (IAM) which would be supported by Lincoln Electric, a world leader in welding training. It seemed like a perfect fit. Lincoln Electric and CCC signed an Educational Agreement in May 2022, but a lot of questions were still unanswered such as the curriculum, the cost, and who would pay for it.


The Chamber quickly convened a group of local manufacturers including Alstom, Plattco and Jeffords Steel (among others) to discuss what were the most in-demand welding skills and what would be most beneficial to teach those looking to become a welder in our region. After multiple meetings, the curriculum was finalized. The course would run for three-weeks (120 hours of instruction) and teach students the fundamentals of MIG and Flux-Core welding on multiple metals. The course would be split into one week of in-classroom training and two weeks of hands-on training in the welding booths. Due in part to the availability of the instructors, it was determined that classes would run from 7:30am-3:30pm, which would also simulate normal work hours at a manufacturing operation. The training would be taught by a combination of instructors from Alstom and Lincoln Electric and, due to the partnership with Lincoln Electric, students who completed the program would receive certificates from NC3 (the National Coalition of Certification Centers).


To accommodate a larger number of welding students, Clinton Community College utilized funding which had been provided by Assemblyman Billy Jones to add four new state-of-the-art welding booths to the IAM. This brought the total number of welding booths up from eight to twelve, meaning the program could now accommodate twelve students per cohort.


Now that the curriculum had been developed, the next big question was cost and how it would be paid for. To encourage maximum participation from the community, and remove any barriers that would prevent individuals from pursuing the training, the course needed to be completely free. That meant covering not only the cost of the training itself, but also the personal protective equipment (PPE) for the students. The Chamber quickly went to work to identify funding to cover the costs.


Chamber staff applied for $285,600 from the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), a Federal-State partnership for economic development in the New England region, to cover the cost of tuition for up to 50 students. In August 2023, the Chamber was notified that of the 137 applications NBRC received, ours was one of 56 applications that were selected for funding.


With tuition costs now covered, we reached out to our partners at the Workforce Development Institute (WDI) to assist us with the cost of PPE. After applying, the Chamber and Clinton Community College were awarded $10,000 for this purpose.


Seeing the value in this training program, local private employers also stepped up to the plate. Alstom agreed to loan eight welding machines for students to train on and also donated hundreds of pounds of welding wire and thousands of test plates — altogether valued at approximately $20,000. Jeffords Steel has donated supplies including test plates for the training program.


With the tuition, PPE and equipment/supplies secured, the group faced one final hurdle. Because the classes would be held during the day, students would need to take time off from work to participate. It would be incredibly difficult for anyone to go three weeks without pay. So, the Chamber team identified a grant opportunity through the New York State Office of Strategic Workforce Development (OSWD) that would provide support services for the students taking the course. The Chamber applied for $125,000 which would provide each student who was unemployed/underemployed or not working during the training period with a $2,500 stipend. The grant would also cover the cost of transportation to and from the training, as well as childcare for any students with children enrolled in a daycare program.


With the training developed, instructors identified, costs covered, and all the finer details ironed out, the Chamber went to work on promoting the program. We worked with Boire Benner Group to develop marketing materials such as rack cards and social media graphics. We advertised the course through our Chamber social media channels, rack card distribution to our partners and local staffing firms, blurbs in our newsletters, press-releases, and more. All in all, an overwhelming 160 individuals in the community signed up for a seat in the classes. Following grant guidelines, the Chamber developed a scoring rubric which helped narrow the list down to 12 students who would receive a spot in the class.


The first cohort began their training at Clinton Community College on May 1st. While a few students had welded before, for most this was their first time. The students were extremely dedicated and over the three weeks, nearly all students maintained perfect attendance, and passed all tests/competencies. The students learned welding safety, welding fundamentals and core skills of MIG/Flux-Core welding on stainless and carbon steel. A small graduation ceremony was held on the final class on May 19th where the students were presented their certificates and were given a moment to celebrate their accomplishment. And nearly six months later, the Chamber is pleased to report that ten out of twelve of the students who graduated from the program are now working in local manufacturing facilities as welders.


The second cohort of twelve students began their training on October 23rd and will complete their training before the end of November. The Chamber plans to host two more sessions of training in the spring and fall of 2024.


This welding training program has been a huge success and an incredible model of public-private partnership. We hope to continue this training beyond 2024 to allow individuals in our community the opportunity to obtain training in an in-demand trade that will result in a high-paying career.

The Chamber would like to thank those who have made this training program possible – Clinton Community College, Lincoln Electric, the Workforce Development Institute, NYS Empire State Development’s Office of Strategic Workforce Development, Alstom, Jeffords Steel, Plattco, Boire Benner Group, Carol Arnold, and so many others.


If you know someone who is interested in participating in the training, please have them contact Joel Wood at the Chamber by calling (518) 563-1000 or email joel@northcountrychamber.com

Joel Wood is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the North Country Chamber of Commerce and Director of the North American Center of Excellence for Transportation Equipment (NAmTrans)

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