Bonduel schools, NWTC weld partnership

New lab expected to fill skills gap

Leader Photos by Lee Pulaski Bonduel High School senior Alex Roffers prepares to work Wednesday afternoon in one of the new welding booths furnished by Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

Sparks flew Wednesday over a new partnership between the Bonduel School District and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

The two education institutions unveiled a revamped welding lab at Bonduel High School that will eventually help teens and adults to obtain the skills necessary to pursue welding jobs.

“Today is truly a special day as we recognize a group of people that developed a vision and worked together,” said Patrick Rau, BHS principal. “For some, this will look like a simple welding lab. I believe this is where students will learn the skills they need to build museums, bridges and buildings that we will one day gaze upon in awe.”

NWTC provided the school with eight Miller 200 Multimatic welders, complete with refabricated booths and curtains. The college also provided safety gear, including welding masks, lab coats and gloves, with the price tag for all the equipment totaling $30,000.

Welding jobs are in high demand, according to Joe Draves, NWTC associate dean for trades and technologies.

The baby boomer generation is retiring, leaving significant gaps in skilled labor, he said.

NWTC expects to graduate 140 students from its welding program later this year, but even with almost 250 students currently enrolled in welding courses through the college, the manufacturing needs of the area are not being met, Draves said.

“These students are going to come out of their high school prepared, and they’re going to be part of the way through the program at NWTC,” Draves said. “Even more important, we’ve got them exposed to the industry and to those fields that otherwise they were missing out on.”

A NWTC graduate report from 2012 found 94 percent of its graduates found employment within six months. The starting wage for welders at the time was $33,000.

Another NWTC report pointed out that job market research from May 2012 through April 2013 showed 63.2 percent of Bonduel-area job postings were in manufacturing, with welding certification being the highest in demand.

Travis Schindel, who teaches the high school welding class, sees this as a win-win to have students go through the program and have the needed skills as early as possible.

Despite the smaller size of the school district, Schindel feels it is important for the high school to expose its students to as many career choices as possible.

“We’re trying to get that connection for these high school students to move forward, to get out of this building, and to make them contributing members of society,” Schindel said. “We know that not everyone is going to be a welder, but hopefully we find someone with the passion, and they can go after it.”

The new program also drew praise from Ashley Bergsbaken, a student at Bonduel High and a state officer for the SkillsUSA program. The revamped welding lab is just the latest brick in a strong trades program at the school, she said.

“It takes advances like this that will help close the skills gap in Bonduel,” Bergsbaken said. “There is a skills gap in our nation. That may not sound good, but that gives the opportunity for students going through our welding program the chance to fill those jobs.”

The welding lab is just the latest team effort between Bonduel schools and NWTC over the last three years, according to Jeannie JaFolla, regional coordinator for NWTC-Shawano. Starting with CPR classes being offered to school district staff in 2010, NWTC has also provided an art class, exercise classes, computer classes and once-a-week access for high school students to its mobile computer numerical control equipment lab.

“The teachers and administrators at Bonduel High School and the district as a whole have been outstanding to work with,” JaFolla said. “They’re always welcoming us into their school with the spirit of ‘You’re welcome. What else can we do to utilize our facilities and offer more classes to everyone in our community?’”

A noncredit welding class for adults starts Oct. 3 at the high school. NWTC is hoping to offer credited courses in welding by fall 2014.