By Jennifer Robertson
Welders are needed for everything from engineering and manufacturing to transportation and construction jobs. They’re also needed in the energy industry.
The Amarillo College welding technology program on the East Campus provides two-year, hands-on training and education that prepare students for professional careers as a welders.
Dr. Kim Hays is the chairman of AC’s industrial maintenance technology department, where he oversees the welding, machining, industrial maintenance, electro-mechanical and HVAC courses. He has a doctorate in agriculture education and has been at the college for 20 years as AC’s certified welding inspector.
“AC is a good college for welding because of the flexibility of the schedules,” Hays said. “We have guys who work all day, then come to class at night. I have a guy that goes to work in Borger at 4 a.m. and then stays in class ‘til 11 p.m.”
Hays and instructors Jimmy Bradshaw and Kham Nakhiengchanh teach all welding-related courses.
Students who earn their certificates will be entered into the American Welding Society database and become registered as a Level II entry welder. Hays said it is important for welding students to realize that, once certified, they will be tested the rest of their lives. Every six months, Hays said, a re-test is required to remain certified as a welder.
“I sign the qualification letter,” he said. “I certify that my welders are qualified, and then the employer actually certifies the welders.”
Manufacturing jobs need qualified welders for everything from furniture and fencing to railings and propane tanks.
“Welding is about 50 percent art and 50 percent skill,” Hays said.
He admits it took him a long time to learn welding because he had little artistic ability himself.
“Guys who are artsy and handy can pick it up fast,” he said.
Mark Young, a former AC student and diesel mechanic who specializes in fabrication of custom parts at a local garage, learned to weld in the U.S. Army. Young has 25 years of experience welding and says it can be profitable depending on the job, the employer or if a person is a self-contractor.
“There is no limit to what you can do with metals,” Young said. “Find a niche that fits you and your personality and run with it. It’s out there.”
The transportation industry needs welders for shipbuilding, airplane assembly and railroad construction.
“I’ve got a job laying on my desk right now for a welder at the railroad, and they pay,” Hays said.
In the energy field, welders may work on pipelines, power plants, wind turbines, nuclear plants and oil rigs.
“Most welding jobs will be on pipelines in the oil and gas industry,” said Charles Snelson, a certified welder of eight years and a signalman at Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway. “Some local businesses may have lost some welders to the oil and gas boom.”
Hays said a welder must be willing and able to weld in a variety of environmental conditions that may not always be ideal, called essential variables.
“They have to want to work,” he said. “Welders have to be willing to get down in a ditch or be 40 feet in the air, upside-down with 40 mph winds if they are going to be successful. I had a guy that graduated from AC two years ago and is making $150,000 a year now on the pipelines in Skellytown.”
Other students might prefer employment at closer distances.
“I just want to find a closer job,” said Chris Villalobos, a welding student who is set to be certified by June 2014. “I work In Friona now, an hour away.”
Dalton Southard, a welding student who plans to earn his certificate in December 2014, has high hopes for his future.
“Welding is a good trade to have,” Southard said. “I would like to work for Valero or Bell Helicopter. Welders are needed all over the United States. In three to four years, I am heading to Oregon, where I have a job waiting for me.”