Calhoun, Wallace community colleges offer programs for females only

Alabama's community colleges are recognizing a new interest in welding, offering a number of programs for students currently in high school

Learning to weld in a program for women only at Wallace Community College.

More female students are turning to welding as a career choice. The job prospects are always hot in that field, and these students — grades 9 through 12 — are looking for a chance to grab those high-paying positions, too.

Alabama’s community colleges are recognizing this new interest by offering classes and camps to teach the latest technology in a really old trade.

At Calhoun Community College in North Alabama, this year marked the 16th anniversary of the Summer Welding and Electrical Technologies camp for girls.

The camp is designed to introduce hundreds of area high school girls to career opportunities available in technical industries. The annual June camp’s registration is limited to 24 campers.

“The camp was started at the request of local industry to help create awareness among high school girls of the high-paying job opportunities available in career and technical fields locally and around the country,” says Wes Torain, Calhoun’s director of public relations and digital media.

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The camp provides hands-on experiences in welding, electrical and additive manufacturing work and helps students develop problem-solving and teamwork skills as they participate in instructor-led projects, he says.

In welding sessions, the campers learn basic applications and some structural welding. In electrical training they learn fundamental residential wiring concepts. Additive manufacturing projects introduce campers to the basic concepts of 3-D printing.

Students interact with women role models during business-sponsored lunches.

The Women in Welding program drew a crowd of students.

Dothan-based Wallace Community College conducted Women in Welding boot camps at two of its campuses in 2021. The grant-funded initiative was designed to attract non-traditional students.

“The bootcamp allowed females the opportunity to engage in various welding activities, initially in a non-threatening environment, in order to dispel myths about the dangers of welding and associated tasks,” says Joe Johnson, Wallace’s director of Workforce Development.

“The participants had the opportunity to utilize virtual reality welding simulators to practice and hone their welding skills prior to transitioning to the traditional welding lab,” he says.

After training on simulators, students moved to the traditional welding lab where they saw faculty demonstrations before entering welding booths.

The first boot camp on the Dothan campus in January 2021 had 16 participants. In February 2021, 12 students went through the camp on the Sparks campus in Eufaula.

“The WIW bootcamp was hugely successful and garnered much attention, locally and nationally,” says Johnson. “Given the success, we have increased enrollment in the non-credit industrial welding program at Wallace-Dothan.”

Half of the eight students in the fall industrial welding course are female, Johnson says.

Some lifting is required during welding but not as much as you might think, Johnson explains.

“Robotic welding has definitely increased in the welding industry,” he says. “However, in my opinion, the manual welding process will never be replaced 100% by robots. There are so many variables when it comes to welding that an individual has to assess during the welding process and many small/tight areas that are not conducive to robotic welding.”

Students who understand welding fundamentals have an easier time transitioning to robotic welding, he says.

Wallace State received a $279,000 National Science Foundation grant that led to creation of a Women in Diesel program. The Women’s Foundation of Alabama also provided funds to train women in welding, diesel technology and other STEM-related fields.

Welding education in Alabama isn’t limited to the traditional campus setting. One program helps prepare prisoners for life after release.

J.F. Ingram State Technical College, based in Deatsville, provides educational opportunities to adults — including women — in prisons throughout Alabama. Those classes include welding certification.

Deborah Storey is a Huntsville-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

This article appears in the November 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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