A recently debuted welding classroom expansion at Fox Valley Technical College gives students access to the latest technology and more space to take on larger projects.
The new lab consists of eight new robotic welders, an arc welding system, a medullary lab and a new press brake as well as an expanded shop area and conference room.
“We did the renovations so we could better serve the students, and we’re able to add more classes as that need increases,” says Andrew Rinke, associate dean of manufacturing and agriculture technologies for FVTC.
This is a great asset for a program that experiences high employer demand. FVTC offers a short-term production welding credential as well as technical diploma and associate degree programs.
Employment placement rates are high for all of the programs, with some at 100 percent and others in the high 90s, Rinke says.
Brandon Goerg, a welding and metal fabrication instructor for FVTC, says the facility’s new press brake is more user-friendly and offers the latest technology. Before the renovation, space was tight, which was limiting, he says. More room means the scale of projects can increase.
“It’s as close to a real-world scenario as you can get without being there,” Goerg says, noting that if the school needs something built, it can now more easily give those opportunities to students — a win-win.
Eric Gonzalez-Kaczmarek, a welding student who will graduate this spring with an associate’s degree in applied science, says the new lab is a huge improvement. He plans to transfer to Northern Michigan University next fall and aspires to become a welding engineer.
Gonzalez-Kaczmarek says his education has helped him learn the skills to feel confident, a benefit when he’s ready to enter the workforce.
“That’s why I chose to do this,” he says, “so I can gain experience in both fields (welding and engineering) and then know what I’m doing more and have respect for the field.”
Student Kobi Langenhuizen, who recently landed a job as a welder with Pierce Manufacturing, was excited to get his hands on the new equipment. One machine allowed him to test his welding accuracy and speed skills. He was happy to report that he scored a 97 out of 100.
Langenhuizen sees welding as a profession with a lot of potential both in terms of career satisfaction and pay. “I like sewing metal together,” he says. “When you’re doing this, it’s kind of like an art.”
Rinke says FVTC is grateful for its partnership with Miller Electric Mfg. Co., which provides the college with equipment on consignment. Every few years the company replaces the equipment with the latest and greatest, and the company can in turn sell the old materials to its distributor network.
“This partnership really represents part of an obligation we feel we have to the industry,” says Dave Lambert, vice president of sales for Miller Electric.
By 2020, the American Welding Society projects a gap of skilled welders approaching 300,000 to serve manufacturing needs in North America, Lambert says. It’s crucial for industry and education to work together to address that.
Lambert, whose company has invested nearly $2 million between FVTC’s Appleton and Oshkosh facilities, sees a bright future in welding for young people. He acknowledges that stereotypes persist but anticipates that will change.
“Advances in both welding health and safety as well as welding training that allows students to hone their skills even more efficiently is part of what breaks down those stigmas about dirty manufacturing environments.”