SIGNAL PEAK, The welding program at Central Arizona College, headed by Brent Couch, is about to give students a leg-up in job experience and a better chance at getting hired through a co-op program with local manufacturing companies.
Although Couch has been the head of the 30-year welding program for only two semesters, he has grand plans for its future.
“My goal is by fall of next year to have a full degree program in place,” he said.
Couch is completely redeveloping what formally now is just a one-year certificate program into a two-year associate degree program for the incoming enrollees. It is to include intern work experience with local companies.
About 70 students are in the program right now. Currently, he and one adjunct professor are teaching the program.
But the co-op internships would allow the top academically performing students with high skill levels in their final year to work a certain amount of hours a week with the partnering companies while still in the program.
Three such companies offering their hand in the co-op are Eloy-based Schuff Steel and the new Elrus Aggregate plant plus Casa Grande’s Fab Tech.
Planning to open its doors sometime in mid-September, Elrus depends on licensed electricians and welders to build large rock grinding and transport machinery. With the pending opening of Elrus’ operations and the burgeoning co-op and program with CAC, students in the CAC welding program will be earning priceless skills and experience at a very local level.
And according to Couch, they could also be slowly earning themselves their first job as a professional welder.
“As long as everything is meshing well, after they are done with the program, (these companies) want to be able to offer these students a full-time job,” Couch said.
“Students probably won’t be welding right away,” he added. “But as long as they’re around it, and maybe even they’re just sweeping floors or something like that, to start out in that environment, will help.”
Elrus General Manager George Schlemmer said his company could train up to three students per semester, “if economy allows.” Their main focus would be welding/fabrication under supervision of line managers. And the students might even get paid for it.
“Selected students will be compensated,” Schlemmer said, “but process or procedure is to be determined as we get closer to initiation of the program this fall.”
He also estimated that after a semester, the students could potentially earn themselves a job there.
“Our company wanted to participate in the co-op because it is helpful to the community. And we have all gone through school, and know the real-world benefits students can receive from this type of hands-on training.”
The new welding associate diploma program at CAC will also not only teach welding basics, Couch said, but broaden the skills of students. The program will be offering more classes than the certificate program. Couch also wants to introduce training on welding processes primarily used in these types of facilities, such as flux-cored arc welding. That class will be offered this fall.
“So, we’ll be adding classes that haven’t been taught in a long time,” he added.
He also plans to make certain general education classes a requirement for the program, such as business classes, and additional math requirements, “so they actually have the general education that they can transfer onto a four-year school as well.”
The new program will introduce blueprint reading and skills in quality control as well as more instruction in welding procedures and specifications, plus fabrication.
“They’re not just going to be welders. They can be a fitter, know how to read drawings, and it’ll be a leg up,” Couch said.
Another major goal of the welding program is to make contacts with employers so that instructors are able to train students for what these employers need.
“The great thing about being partners with companies like Elrus or Schuff is that they are able to tell me what they’re doing and the things they need students to be proficient in when they come out of the program. This new program and co-op will help prepare students a little better for the working world.
“I know employers are looking for specific skills, and it’s not just welding.”
For example, skills that Elrus looks for in its welders are heavy plate fabrication, blueprint reading, teamwork and good work ethic. While students can “get an idea” about some of that in the classroom, 46-year-old welding student Rex Turvan feels the real work-world experience is vital, too.
Turvan and his wife have lived in Casa Grande for the last three years. But after a long career in the Marine Corps, Turvan decided to try a new career move and is one semester away from graduating as a welder from CAC. Although the classroom training has been adequate, he said, “No matter what you learn in the classroom, it is nothing like the real world.”
Turvan said it could possibly lead to students like him opening up their own businesses.
When asked if he’d come back to CAC to complete an associate instead of just a certificate, he said, “absolutely.”
While the welding program is not yet part of the Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology, involving area high school students, Couch said, “That is something that I want to pursue.”
For more information about the program, contact Couch at Brent.Couch@centralaz.edu.