Welding a new nest: Dickinson State University adds welding program
This fall, Dickinson State University will begin its all-new one year welding program in response to a high demand for welders in the manufacturing and oil industries
DICKINSON — Dickinson State University is adding a welding program to its expanding list of career training programs. Agriculture and Technical Studies Department Chair Chip Poland said the college has been exploring options to create a welding education program west of Bismarck for about 15 years. It’s part of DSU’s Dual Mission initiative to expand beyond four year degrees to offer more graduate studies, as well as associate level training for semi-truck drivers (CDL), certified nursing assistants (CNA) and welders. These expansions into vocational programs were recognized by Gov. Doug Burgum in June.
Currently, the welding courses are conducted in the same workshop as the woodworking. DSU already offers two welding courses — one specializing in agricultural welding. According to DSU, the two semester welding program will be more comprehensive than the previous iterations of the welding courses now that the school has acquired 10 new welders expected to more adequately support the growing program.
Eventually it will be moved to the Southwest Career and Technical Education Academy that’s being developed on the north side of Dickinson in the former Halliburton complex. DSU is still seeking a primary instructor for the program. Poland said area manufacturers raised concerns about the lack of available workers.
“They suggested that part of the issue was that when students who have an interest in welding leave the area to learn how to become welders, oftentimes they don’t come back to this part of the state. So if we could train them here, we might have a better opportunity of being able to retain them here,” Poland said. “Steffes was the first manufacturer to come to the table. Certainly they are not the only manufacturer in town, but they have been the most vocal and provided some initial seed money for us to be able to get things started.”
DSU has had conversations with Fisher Industries and smaller manufacturers about welding as well. Employers in the energy sector, mostly pipelines, have also expressed support for a welding program because they’ve had trouble recruiting welders to the region who want to stay here, Poland said.
This launch of the program, slated to begin this fall, will consist of four eight-week components.
“The backbone of the program is they would have a period of classroom or lecture time first thing in the morning. Then they would have an opportunity to move out to the shop and begin to weld,” he said.
Students in the program will gain experience in a wide range of methods and equipment such as mig, tig and stick welding.
“They would focus on four different positions… flat, horizontal, vertical and overhead with the intent that they would test for certification at the end of each one of those eight week periods,” he said.
Much of the time spent in the classroom will be spent learning the print reading and mathematical skills, as well as knowledge of metal properties necessary to be a successful welder. Poland added that there may also be a special course for the unique challenges of industrial plumbing and oilfield work.
“We have envisioned a summer pipe welding course that’s not necessarily mandatory in terms of the certificate. But certainly for a student wanting to look at pipelines, the oil or energy industry, there may be some desire of having more experience with pipe in a variety of different, positions if you will,” Poland said.
These workers are often in trenches with limited space to move around and must be able accommodate their work to the curvatures of the pipeline, he added.
The university will allow students to use the credit hours they earn welding as a bridge to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. According to a DSU news release , freshman Blue Hawk football player Mason Faulk has modified his plans to do just that.
“Welding was always something I was interested in, and I want to make it my career,” Faulk said. “After having worked at a welding business in my hometown of Shepherd, Montana, I hope to own my own welding business one day.”
Poland said safety is a high priority in the welding shop. Instructors stress to students the importance of proper eye and skin protection, as well as ear plugs when doing any metal grinding work.
Welding can be a lucrative career path. Adam Hoselton is the shop manager of the general steel division at Fisher Industries in Dickinson. Hoselton said they start welders out at $20 to $23 per hour depending on experience and proficiency demonstrated in tests. The labor market has been tough and they were short staffed for almost a year, but things are looking up, he said.
“We’ve probably hired close to six people in the last month, so we’re actually turning around very well,” Hoselton said. “Before that I spent six months and couldn’t even get anyone to call me back.”