BY RYAN CHALK / THE REPORTER
Posted: 04/15/2010 01:47:03 AM PDT
Raul DeLaCruz uses a stick-welding method on a piece of steel pipe during a welding class at Solano Community College in Fairfield on Saturday. (RYAN CHALK / THE REPORTER)
Their futures are so bright, they have to wear shades -- indoors, that is.
Take a step inside the welding shop at Solano Community College and you see a mix of students from those barely removed from high school to adult professionals looking to advance their careers. With sparks flying and flashes of light emanating from the individual welding booths, everyone has their glasses or welding masks on for safety.
"We do every type of welding imaginable ... MIG (metal inert gas), TIG (tungsten inert gas), aluminum, stainless, mild steel," said Thomas Via, welding instructor. "A lot of people here are already in the field and trying to get certified in a specific area."
According to the American Welding Society, there is a shortage of welders in the United States. The average age of a welder in the United States is in the mid-50s and the baby boomer generation is causing a spike in the number retiring and fewer welding students are entering the field to replace them.
The prediction is that there could be a shortage of 200,000 skilled welders by the end of this decade.
Fortunately for those in Solano County, Solano Community College is positioned to help train the next generation of welders and help offer skills to those who are looking to start a new career or further an existing one.
"Welding is the only certified program at Solano, along with aeronautics, to meet national standards," Via said.
The welding program is the only one in the state to be designated as an affiliate institution of the National Center for Welding Education and Training (Weld-Ed).
"The more I can do to benefit myself, the more I can do for the company," said Dale Mitchell of Benicia.
Mitchell, 48, works for United Airlines as a mechanic in the engine shop.
"I'm here learning how to TIG weld and learn how to work with aluminum and steel. If I can learn how to do these repairs in our shop, we don't have to outsource them," Mitchell said.
He said he's learned how to weld from "scratch" and has been enrolled in the program for a year.
"I'm doing it to advance my career and my opportunities with United Airlines," Mitchell said.
"You can learn how to put these skills to work with any type of equipment. It's going to benefit you whether you want to work on a bridge or the aerospace field. I think it's a great skill for somebody right out of high school," he added.
Raul DeLaCruz worked as a meat packer for 20 years. But working in the freezer affected his knee to the point where he had to quit. Two-and-a-half years ago, the 45-year-old Suisun resident enrolled in the welding program and has his certification in plate welding.
It landed him a job at a refinery as a welder, but due to the recession, he was laid off.
He's back working toward a certification in pipe welding.
"There's a lot of things I've learned here. It's close to home and it's a a great place to change a career," DeLaCruz said.
For more information about the welding program at Solano Community College, contact Via at email@example.com or call 864-7140 Ext. 7279 or 5218. You can also visit the school's Web site at http://www.solano.edu/.