New career arc

FVTC boot camp connects struggling students with welding careers

Posted on Jul 13, 2018 :: Plant News
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Before stumbling upon the Fox Valley Technical College Welding Boot Camp, Dawn Golly felt a little stuck in life.

She was working a low-paying job as an optician and hadn’t completed her high school diploma when she learned of the program through a friend who worked for the college. Golly couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn a trade while completing her GED, and she had a feeling welding could be an excellent fit.

“I’ve always been hands-on,” she says. “I like doing crafty things, and welding isn’t far from that.”

She’d never brag, but the boot camp’s two women participants emerged among the program’s most skilled welders, says Chuck Wachter, project and development specialist in FVTC’s Adult Basic Education, or ABE, program.

Golly successfully completed the program, earned her GED and is enjoying a fulfilling and well-paying job as a robotic welder at Mayville Engineering Co.’s Wautoma plant. She’s already planning to complete a welding associate degree and has her sights set on becoming a welding instructor.

That outcome was exactly what FVTC leaders envisioned when they created the program. It was established through a grant the college received from the Wisconsin Technical College System. While the state’s technical colleges do work together, they also compete, Wachter says. This grant sought collaborative projects.

FVTC developed the program with Moraine Park Technical College, which for several years has run successful manufacturing and welding boot camps. The FVTC boot camp is run within the college’s ABE program. Upon completion, students will have learned basic welding techniques and finished their high school credential, if applicable.

Before joining, those interested attend a test drive session in which they learn more about the program. Admittance is contingent upon an employer’s willingness to take the student as an intern. Around 40 attended the first test drive, 13 were offered positions, 12 accepted and eight successfully completed the program.

Many of the students came from challenging backgrounds, including some with Department of Corrections referrals and past drug and alcohol problems, Wachter says. “There’s a lot of mentorship and support built into it for the student because it’s a pretty rigorous program.”

Students completed the 16-week program at the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center on the FVTC campus in Oshkosh. The first weeks focused on employability skills and classes such as math for the trades. Participants worked with welding instructors on blueprint reading, safety and welding processes.

After seven to eight weeks, students began interning one day a week, and the program culminated in a two-week full-time internship experience. Training was free to the students, who also got paid $12 per hour for their internship time. Each graduate is now employed as a welder earning $13 to $15 per hour as well as benefits. Two boot camp sessions for the coming school year are planned.

The students, who ranged in age from teens to one in his 50s, came away with soft skills as well as hard and learned to overcome challenges, Wachter says. “The skills gap is a huge reason why we’re looking at doing this, but the ultimate reason was to show that not having a high school diploma shouldn’t hold you back,” he says. Φ