Sparks fly in the Victoria school district’s welding shop. Metal slag falls to the ground as students slice through steel with torches.

Some students perform simple welds connecting two metal plates, while one is fabricating a complex meat smoker.

Daniel Ochoa, 17, is building a log rack for his family, but he’s also building something more: a future.

“I fell in love with welding,” Ochoa said.

In addition to the log rack, Ochoa is working toward a certification that will see him considered employable in the welding industry upon his high school graduation. It’s the same certification his brother earned in the early 2010s that led to a welding job he still holds today.

The welding program at the school district’s Career & Technology Education Institute is a pathway for students to earn certifications in an industry that is in drastic need of new, young welders.

The welding industry is projected to need hundreds of thousands of new welders in the next few years, according to the American Welding Society.

In Victoria, the welding students are able to earn several certifications. Each certification is a step toward becoming a welder, said welding teacher John Wright, with the goal to complete being to earn a certification for performing a difficult vertical weld.

Skilled welders are needed across the industry, and not just in strictly welding professions, said Joe Young, senior manager of workforce development at AWS.

“Just about everybody out there is running on skeleton crews,” Young said. Welders needed include instructors, inspectors, pipe fitters, fabricators and more, he said.

By 2024, the industry is projected to need 314,000 new professionals, according to AWS data. Of the current professionals, 21.4% are 55 and older. Only 9.4% are under 25-years-old, which means that as older welders approach retirement age there are not enough new welders to take their place.

“You want to build new bridges across the U.S.? That’s a lot of steel right there, and you’re going to need hands to weld it and they’re going to have to be skilled,” Young said.

At the school district’s CTE Institute, the certifications offered can set students on the path to become a welder and replace those retiring welders. If they’re good enough, the students will earn a certification that will make them “industry ready,” Wright said.

“I would say probably about 40% of my students will attain” the industry ready certification. The certification will help students find employment upon graduation because it qualifies them for some of the most common welding positions, Wright said.

Even if a student doesn’t attain the industry ready certification, they can use the certifications they have earned to apply for college courses or a welding apprenticeship, Wright said.

The class prepares students in all of the basics of welding, Wright said. They offer instruction in shielded arc, flux-cored arc, gas metal arc and gas tungsten arc welding, and offer certifications in both structural and pipe welding.

While they do offer pipe welding certifications, the focus of the class is primarily structural because that is the type of welding fabricators in the area most often need, Wright said. This can vary depending on location, noting that as close as Beeville welding students focus on pipe welding because there is more of a demand for it there.

About 5% of students in the shop will attain their pipe welding certifications, Wright said. The class offers instruction on and can prepare students to earn it, but because the shop does not have an x-ray machine or a tensile tester — a machine that can pull a pipe apart and inspect the weld — they cannot certify students in the class. Instead, students can earn certifications in welding competitions.

“If you can get this, you’ve got a job,” Wright said, gesturing toward a drawing of a pipe weld on his whiteboard.

The class also offers a National Center for Construction Education and Research basic safety certification, which Wright said around 80% of his students attain.

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Cody covers the business beat for the Advocate. He can be reached at (361) 580-6504 or cbaird@vicad.com

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Business Reporter

Cody Baird reports on business and breaking news in the Crossroads region. He served in the Air Force and received his Bachelor's in journalism at Texas A&M University. Reach him at cbaird@vicad.com.

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