The Decatur school system's welding program currently has room for only 20 students at an off-campus site, but that will change by August in response to student and industry demand.
Decatur City Schools plans to spend almost $1 million to start a welding program at the Career Academies of Decatur.
“There is a big demand for welders, and we have too many students waiting to get into the program,” said Superintendent Michael Douglas.
Decatur students currently take welding classes at the Global Tech Institute in Decatur, and 20 slots are available, 10 each for students at Decatur and Austin.
Douglas said he believes the expanded program will have as many as 120 students.
Angie Cushing, a career coach at Decatur’s academy, said they rerouted about 60 students who wanted to be in welding to other programs “because we didn’t have the space.”
Cushing and DCS career and technical education supervisor Shelton Cobb interviewed every student requesting to be in the program.
“Being welding trained is an advantageous skill, and we have too many students on the waiting list,” Cushing said. “Every time industrial leaders tour our facility or we meet with them at their plants, they talk about the need for welders.”
Austin juniors Trey Jenkins and Luke Massey are two of the students in the welding program at Global Tech and they have different plans on how they will use their welding skills in the future.
“I like working on cars and that’s where I plan to use my welding skills,” Jenkins said. “This will probably be a side job for me.”
Massey, too, likes working on cars, but he plans to make a living welding.
“This is my career path,” he said.
Calvin Washington, who has been a certified welder for more than 30 years, owns and operates Global Tech. He said students who earn their certification shouldn’t have any problem finding a job in the Decatur area.
“I get calls every week from companies looking for welders,” Washington said. “Students in this program will be industry-trained and ready for a job when they leave.”
He said beginning welders can start making between $16 and $18 per hour, but that pay “can swell quickly based on ability.”
Washington said welders don’t necessarily get paid based on years of experience, adding “if they are good, the demand for their talent will be all over the United States.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the number of welding jobs is expected to grow 3% nationally through 2028.
Douglas said the growth in welding jobs is likely to be especially robust in the Decatur area because of large plants and their suppliers locating nearby.
“We've got to get students ready for good jobs and do this quickly,” he said.
The $1.6 billion automotive assembly plant that Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA is building in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County to start production in 2021 will house several shops including body welding.
DCS project manager Lee Edminson said space at the old Austin High on Danville Road is being converted for the welding academy and it will have 25 welding stations.
“We’ll have it ready by the summer,” he said.
The money to install the welding program is part of $6 million the school board agreed in November to borrow on the bond market at a 2.858% interest rate.