When welding returned to Pocahontas County High School six years ago, students jumped at the chance to take the Career and Technical Education [CTE] class. Learning skills to gain certification and becoming completers, students are able to prepare themselves for a life-long career while still in school.
With the addition of Simulated Workplace, teacher Justin Kerr said students are not only learning the basics needed to become welders, they are also using their creative edge to fill orders for items on the county and state level.
“The state wants us to start collaborating with the state parks, so I’ve been reaching out to them, trying to submit information about what they might want, like fire pits and rings for their fire pits, gates, things of that nature,” Kerr said. “Basically, that’s starting our process and once we do that, we’ll come back, have an overall idea of how big they want it and we’ll do price quotes on the material we’re going to have.”
Workplace orders for the Warrior Welding business add to the already rigorous curriculum the students must follow in Welding 1, 2, 3 and 4, but once completed, the students can graduate with State Certification and as a completer.
“They have to go through certain modules and once you complete Welding 4, you’re technically a completer in my class,” Kerr said. “While you’re going through that, you’re going to take a test to get your certifications. Just because you do not get your certifications does not mean you’re not a completer in the class. Basically, it’s a state structural test which they take and then they can eventually take a pipe test, and if they pass the test, they hold a state certification as a welder.”
There are three processes in which students may get certified – SMAW [shielded metal arc welding] or stick welding, GMAW [gas metal arc welding] or MIG welding and GTAW [gas tungsten arc welding] or TIG welding.
“They’ll start out running 6010 rods on a flat piece of plate and they’ll do that in four positions – flat, horizontal, vertical and then they’ll do it overhead,” Kerr said. “Once they get to the point where they’re doing it properly, I’ll move them to the next stage and then they start over on a different rod and do it again.”
Kerr said the addition of workplace orders has reduced the monotony of doing the same welds over and over again, but he reiterated how important it is for the students to learn those monotonous welds.
“We’ve got a pretty rigorous curriculum that we try to follow,” he said. “Whenever we’re out there and we’re practicing, I’ll say, ‘we’re working on this today,’ and then the latter part of the day, we finish practice just to break it up. I try and make it as real life as possible – physically getting out and building something and doing something structural and making it structurally sound – that’s a big difference.”
In the end, for those interested in a welding career, the payoff is that they are prepared to either enter the workforce after graduation, or attend college to get further training.
For those who enter the workforce, Kerr said it is important to remember that it won’t always be like it was in the school’s shop.
“Right now you’re in best case scenario,” he said. “You’re in a shop environment where you can do whatever you want to. You get into a field position, you’re basically going to have to learn from scratch because you’re going to be in awkward positions, welding up a structure that you’re normally doing in a seated, fixed position.”
Some students do decide to go onto college, as Kerr did, and being a completer in high school gives them a big advantage and a foot in the door.
“If they decide to go on to college, they can potentially leave here – just by going through the four courses and having a state certification test under their belt – they can go into about any welding college or associate degree welding college, and they’re going to take a percentage off of what you have to do potentially,” Kerr said. “I left here when I graduated and went to college [West Virginia University at Parkersburg]. I got twenty-three credit hours just by coming to school here and leaving with a certification.”
Things are going well in the welding department and the students are filling orders, but it is a slow going process for many reasons. Kerr said there are issues with space, storage and time.
The class is putting finishing touches on a trailer which they hope to sell chances on for a fundraiser. The trailer is a collaborative effort with the carpentry department. The carpentry students cut wood slats to make the floor of the trailer and the welding students made the frame, spring hangers and gate.
The trailer is one of the largest pieces the class has done since Kerr became the teacher.
“We built a bear trap on a frame for the DNR – a live bear trap – the first year I was here,” he said. “This is the second biggest, and I wanted to build something like this to give away to build an income for classes.”
With a large project like the trailer, there isn’t much room left in the shop for supplies and other projects, but Kerr said they get by with what they have.
The shop has 14 welding units on top of an open floor plan to maneuver larger items.
“Limited space on where we can work is the hold up on our projects,” Kerr said. “We can work on two, maybe three projects at a time, but once we get a bigger project in here, we’re done. You’ve got to focus on that.”
The shop will soon have a new addition which may take up more space, but it will also add to the students’ list of abilities in welding. The welding department was recently awarded a Modernization Grant from the West Virginia Department of Education and Kerr used it to purchase a CNC Plasma Table.
“It’s basically a robotic cutting machine,” Kerr said. “It will be run off of a drafting program. Say you have a product that has a logo. It will go around it and get the measurements and physically convert it over onto the program. Then we can cut it out. We’ll be able to do two to ten-inch pipe, cut it, bevel it, whatever. We’ll be able to cut decent size metal signs for businesses, and I’m hoping to go in that direction.”
With the basics and not-so-basic abilities, the welding students at PCHS have ignited a spark.
“The sky’s the limit,” Kerr said of his students’ capabilities.
Second in a series about the Career and Technical Education programs at Pocahontas County High School.