New Welding Artisan Training Center Eyes Southwest Detroit

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A welding training center focused on returning veterans, job-transitioning adults, former inmates, and at-risk teens is slated to open in January, and the group behind the effort is studying a location in southwest Detroit. Graduates of the program will leave with more than just a certification in hand, however.

“(The program) gives them soft skills, financial literacy, and on-the-job preparedness,” says Gary Hendrickson, co-founder of the Welding Artisan Center. He adds the nonprofit is working with different employers to help provide transportation to graduates once they have completed training and have secured employment. “Because when you have a welding job, you may not always be able to get to the job site (using) the bus.”

The Welding Artisan Center will offer three levels of certification, staring with a 15-week course (375 hours) that prepares students for production welding, millwright, and maintenance welding in small job shops. The second level, at 30 weeks, offers certification in structural welding for bridges and buildings. At 50 weeks, the final level provides training in both structural and pipe welding, which prepares students for jobs in the energy field, at oil refineries, and inside chemical plants.

In turn, the organization can customize programs for specific employers and will offer specialized classes on the weekend for welding enthusiasts and artisans.

“The shortage for welders nationally is pretty well known,” Hendrickson says. “You can go to North Dakota, and if you know how to weld, you can make six figures in your first year because demand is so great there.”

He attributes the talent shortage to the fact that young people aren’t entering the trade at the same pace the older workforce is retiring. In southeastern Michigan, the demand for on-site welding is only going to grow — the planned international bridge that will connect Detroit to Windsor, and the M-1 Rail line on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, for instance.

“Those projects — totally set apart from manufacturing — are going to create a huge spike in demand for welders here,” Hendrickson says. “Otherwise, (the welders will come from) Ohio, Illinois, and Texas, which is a shame. We have high unemployment in Detroit and young kids that are looking for alternatives to college — this solves the shortage of welders and it solves a social problem, too.”

While the Welding Artisan Center is still in negotiations for its location, Hendrickson says the nonprofit’s leadership is eyeing southwest Detroit, which is in close proximity to industry organizations and provides easy access to public transportation.

Tuition prices will range from $6,750 for the first level, $13,500 for the second level, and $22,500 for the third level. The organization — which recently received the Consumers Energy and Thaw Community Transformation Prize through the 2014 Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge — hopes to begin accepting applications by late 2014.

For more information, visit weldingartisancenter.com.

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