Growing COA Welding Program Addresses Nationwide Skills Gap and Creates Path for Real-World Jobs By Laura Bush Jenkins



This season, PBS' "This Old House" host Kevin O'Connor highlighted a nationwide trend influencing shipbuilding, equipment companies, and builders in our region.
"For decades, people haven't been going into the trades," he explains.
The show, in partnership with mikeroweWORKS Foundation,implemented a Next Generation Initiative to"bridge the skills gap in the building trades" so there are enough skilled craftsmen to replace those retiring.
Locally, College of the Albemarle (COA) addresses this need through its one-year Welding Technology Program.  According to instructor Mike Lopes, since 2012, the department grew from training 8-12 students to "full capacity," serving 62 students at the Elizabeth City and Dare Campuses.  

As demand increases and dual enrollment programs open doors for high school and home-schooled students, the potential exists to grow the program further.  The college is searching for another qualified part-time instructor to accommodate growing enrollment.
"Newport News [area] is begging for someone to show up to work," said Lopes, a welder of 43 years sought out shortly after retirement to teach at COA.  He frequently receives calls from employers seeking qualified applicants.
I noticed a job posting from Norfolk Naval Shipyard on his office door.  According to spokeswoman Anna Taylor, the shipyard is leveraging the federal Office of Personnel Management's direct-hire authority for welders due to the nationwide shortage. 
This spring, full-time returning students commit to 6 classes totaling 33 hours of hands-on instruction, Monday through Thursday.  Top-producing students utilize Fridays for work-based learning experiences as interns with local companies.
"The only break they get is lunch," mentions Lopes.  
After all, there is little time to waste when 99% of students in COA's program have no prior experience.  The majority are  18-19 years old and enter after completing a placement test demonstrating math proficiency above the basic level.

Other than meeting this qualification, most students come to the table as an open book with raw ambition, practical mentality, and strong desires to accomplish personal financial goals.  This hard-working spirit enables them to do more than earn a living, but potentially make an impact in years to come.
If you would like to learn more about COA's welding program, contact Mike Lopes at 252 335 0821x 2335, or visit www.albemarle.edu
Growing COA Welding Program Addresses Nationwide Skills Gap and Creates Path for Real-World Jobs By Laura Bush Jenkins Growing COA Welding Program Addresses Nationwide Skills Gap and Creates Path for Real-World Jobs By Laura Bush Jenkins Reviewed by kensunm on 7:00:00 PM Rating: 5

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