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Working with new welders

Ron Merrill of Frazee makes a weld in the new M State welding trailer. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE

The growing need for welders has left several area businesses at a loss for workers, and M State is going mobile to help ease the skilled trade shortage.

“From M State’s perspective, we saw a need for qualified welders around this area,” said G.L. Tucker, dean of custom training and B.E.S.

He said that he has talked with businesses about the need and is working with Rural Minnesota CEP on a welding program now. The college may offer a one-year course in the future to help as well.

But until all that happens, instructor Josh Heibel has designed a welding trailer that can be taken to businesses for on-site training purposes.

Trailer capabilities

With no welding courses being taught at the college, they decided instead to build a trailer that could travel to various sites where training was needed.

The transformed cold storage grocery semi-trailer now houses 12 welding stations for students. Those stations are equipped with state of the art equipment for learning gas metal arc welding (MIG), fluxed cored arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding (TIG) and shielded metal arc welding (STICK).

Along with the hands-on welding, students will have classroom time to learn process theory and application, print reading, weld symbols, basic math and (American Welding Society) AWS codes.

M State can train at any of their campuses plus at any business site.

Finished in May, the trailer is hosting its first class through the Rural Minnesota CEP program. They will be completing the 160-hour course this week and will be able to test for their AWS certification then.

“We are flexible to train at any location,” Tucker said.

“It’s very customizable,” Heibel said about what he can teach workers when the trailer is being used at a specific business.

Dan Friesen of Detroit Lakes’ Friesen’s, Inc. said that there is definitely a need for welders and Friesen’s has been bringing in workers and training them in-house.

“It’s pretty tough to find good, experienced welders,” Friesen said. “We pretty much try to do our own training. We’ll just put them on a table and train them here.”

He said that he knows about the new M State trailer and the company has talked about utilizing it, though they haven’t made any decisions regarding it.

The trailer runs on electricity that will need to be supplied from the building they are training at. The air inside is cool, with the system recycling and filtering it.

This is the third trailer Heibel has designed.

There are two welding trailers at the college in Marshall and then this one in Detroit Lakes.

Future class

Tucker said that with the demand for welders and the upturn in the economy, M State is exploring having a one-year welding program on campus. There was previously a two-year program, but one year seems more feasible for welder needs.

“It’s hard to retain a welding student because they can go out and get a good paying job,” Heibel said.

In the past, after the first year of classes, the student has learned enough to go test and get AWS certified and doesn’t show up for the second year of classes.

The class would likely not start until the fall of 2014 though.

In the meantime, M State will concentrate on customized training using the trailer.

Heibel said that he has seen a decline in welders because when it came time for cuts in the high schools, the trades are first to get cut. Schools also started to focus more on technology than skilled trade professions.

And with the decline in the economy, businesses were laying off people and jobs were scarce.

But, schools are now seeing the importance again, and Detroit Lakes High School in particular is working with M State on some trades classes. Now that the economy is turning around and more jobs are being added, there aren’t the welders to fill them.

“They’re not filling in for those retiring,” Heibel said.

M State is hitting the road and hoping to change that.