In new economy, welding is a STEM job

Welding is a STEM job, says Traci Tapani, CEO of a Minnesota sheet-metal company that’s  training its workers, rather than relying on local community colleges, writes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Wyoming Machine works on armoring Humvees.

“Many years ago, people learned to weld in a high school shop class or in a family business or farm, and they came up through the ranks and capped out at a certain skill level. They did not know the science behind welding,” so could not meet the new standards of the U.S. military and aerospace industry.

“They could make beautiful welds,” she said, “but they did not understand metallurgy, modern cleaning and brushing techniques” and how different metals and gases, pressures and temperatures had to be combined.

Moreover, in small manufacturing businesses like hers, explained Tapani, “unlike a Chinese firm that does high-volume, low-tech jobs, we do a lot of low-volume, high-tech jobs, and each one has its own design drawings. So a welder has to be able to read and understand five different design drawings in a single day.”

Unable to find qualified applicants, Wyoming Machine hired a trainer. But it was hard to find trainees with sufficient math and science skills, says Tapani.

“I can’t think of any job in my sheet metal fabrication company where math is not important. If you work in a manufacturing facility, you use math every day; you need to compute angles and understand what happens to a piece of metal when it’s bent to a certain angle.”

Many community colleges and universities can’t keep up with employers’ needs, Friedman writes.

Miami Dade College makes workforce training a priority, collaborating with more than 100 companies, says Eduardo Padrón, the president.  “Every program that we offer has an industry advisory committee that helps us with curriculum, mentorship, internships and scholarships.”

Immigrants used to take an unskilled job and work their way into the middle class, Padrón says. “That is no longer possible.”  Education is a necessity, not a “luxury for the few.”

Padrón wins Carnegie leadership award

Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College is a co-winner of the Carnegie Corporation‘s $500,000 academic leadership award. Padrón was selected for creating a culture of success that has improved student access, retention and graduation rates for predominantly low-income and minority students at his community college.

Padrón believes that increasing the number of low-income students who enter and complete college is one of the most important—and proven—approaches to reducing poverty and increasing economic mobility.  To help students complete school, MDC has teamed with Single Stop USA, an anti-poverty initiative, to establish offices on its campuses staffed with coordinators who work directly with students to identify benefits and services that can help them stay in school, whether it’s help buying groceries and paying rent, filing their taxes, or coaching them on how to manage debt.

 Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) is the other co-winner.

Today’s higher education leaders — the ones willing to butcher sacred cows — typically come from non-elite institutions, writes Anya Kamenetz in the Washington Post, citing Gail Mellow at LaGuardia Community College and Padrón. ”Whether public or private, these lesser-known institutions all serve needier students and remain closer to their demands. They are also working with far fewer resources than the selective privates or flagship state universities, which I’m sure makes for less complacency.”