Evening welding class draws wide range of students

May 24, 2018

This piece is presented by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

It wasn’t a big group that signed up to take the inaugural evening welding certificate class at Southeast Technical Institute this year.

But it sure was an eclectic and enjoyable one.

And for father and son Mark and Gavin Cotter, it was a family education with immediate application.

It all started when Mark asked Gavin, a freshman at O’Gorman High School, what he’d like to learn in the industrial arts.

“He said he’d really like to learn how to weld,” Mark said. “He has a mowing business and wanted to build a trailer for it, but first he had to learn how to weld.”

Gavin, who aspires to be an engineer and was used to making projects with wood, wanted to try his hand with metal.

“I wanted to spread out into a different way of building things,” he said.

So Mark, the city’s director of public works, looked to Southeast Tech. He sits on the foundation’s board and inquired about an evening welding class.

“They told me I was in luck, because to try to be more responsive to industry, they were going to start to add more certificate classes, so people could expand their skill set.”

So that led Mark and Gavin – the youngest person ever to attend Southeast Tech – to a twice-weekly evening course for 16 weeks. They became two of five students to learn gas metal arc welding, a process mainly used in manufacturing.

“Usually at night, we get very nontraditional students. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a minor in the class,” welding instructor Shaina Johnson said. “Usually, we get people who work full-time during the day, and they want a quick skill at night or their company is sending them for training.”

The first group was small, “but the five students loved it,” Johnson said. “It was really cool to see. There were times Gavin would pick up something quickly and have to go show his dad, which was a pretty unique thing to witness.”

Mark, who grew up welding, decided to take the class to chaperone and make sure it wasn’t too much for his son to juggle with other classes and activities. But he picked up new skills too.

“I thought it was great. We all got along so well; it became like a family,” he said. “The facilities and equipment were fantastic, and our instructor was a very good, patient person and a great coach teaching us the various positions of welding.”

Gavin agreed. His high school even ended up counting the course as an elective.

“Some nights were more frustrating than others, but it was fun,” he said. “It was nice being in a lab more than a classroom. It was definitely different than doing a shop class and working with wood. Now I want to learn how to do other kinds of welding.”

He’s already putting his new skills to use. The Cotters bought a welder, and the first project is almost complete. Gavin’s trailer will be ready when he ramps up Cotter Property Solutions this spring and summer, offering mowing, fertilizing, hedging and seeding. Call 605-413-3816 for service.

The following summer, he expects to put his welding ability to use in a seasonal job that likely will pay more than the work his peers will find.

It’s a good, early example of the market power welders enjoy.

“The demand for welders is getting worse. The skills gap is just huge,” Johnson said. “We can’t seem to pump out enough students, and when we tell incoming and current students how they’re needed and wanted, their eyes just light up, and it gives them the drive to be successful.”

Southeast Tech has started registration for its fall evening welding class and plans to add training in different types of welding processes based on demand. To learn more, click here. 

To see more workforce development strategies, read the latest edition of WIN: Workforce Information Now from the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

Evening welding class draws wide range of students

When a high school freshman wanted to weld, he became the youngest person to attend Southeast Technical Institute. His dad went with him, and they became part of a tight-knit nontraditional class.

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