Among the bright flashes and sparks bouncing off welding torches and the hum of grinding machines, students in Slade Holley’s welding class work at a fast pace to complete their assignments.
For some, welding class is something fun to do while going to high school. For others, like Holtville senior Calvin Gilliand, welding means the possibility of a well-paying job in the near future that utilizes his talents.
“I plan on going somewhere with it and working as a welder, whether it is at a fabrication shop or on a pipeline,” Gilliand said.
He gained an interest in welding literally by accident.
“I got into a wreck while I was towing a trailer when I was 16,” Gilliand said. “I had to cut the entire tongue off the trailer and weld it all back together.
“That was the first time I ever did any welding and I really started to like it. Then I noticed we had a program so I started to take welding last year.”
Gilliand was not completely sold on the idea of coming back for welding during his senior year of high school, but he is glad he did.
“The second year Mr. Holley came in and has us doing a lot of hands-on projects,” Gilliand said. “There is so much stuff to know about welding. You’ll never learn it all.”
Senior Bobby Bethea, who is a third-year welding class student, wants to move on to college with his skills and knowledge.
“I really like welding,” Bethea said. “You would think it would be hard to do, but it’s not. I want to go to (Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City) or Trenholm (State Community College in Montgomery) after high school then work on a pipeline so I can travel.”
Bethea demonstrated a digital welding tool used by students who are new to welding.
“With this I can see what students need to work on,” said Holley, who is in his first year of teaching. “Also, it helps kids get familiar with the equipment before going out to the shop.”
Holley has around 10 years professional experience in the field and nearly a lifetime of experience in welding and steel due to the fact his father is owner of Holley Steel Inc. based in Elmore.
“It’s a dying breed,” Holley said. “We do not get a lot of young people out on the job now. Businesses are having a hard time finding good welders and good hands. I just want to contribute to bringing more good people into the field. These kids are catching on fast and that is exciting to watch.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nationwide median annual wage for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers was $41,380 in May 2018. America’s aging infrastructure will require the expertise of welders, cutters, solderers and brazers to help rebuild bridges, highways and buildings.
The construction of new pipelines transporting natural gas and oil is also expected to result in new jobs for this generation of welding students.
Welding technology students have the ability to earn National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Core and Welding 1 certifications. From there, students may enter the workforce or continue their studies at a variety of community colleges in the state.