Manufacturing has long been the lifeblood of Columbus, but there’s one skill set that often is overlooked as a career path for young people: Welding.
“Welding is literally the foundation of all manufacturing, and we’re the manufacturing capital of Nebraska,” said Sarah Ehlers, the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s director of talent and workforce development. “We put out more per capita than even Omaha or Lincoln, we have more engineers per capita than Omaha and Lincoln.”
When it comes to welding specifically, there’s been a push by community leaders over the years to encourage people to consider making it a career. All three local high schools offer welding programs, according to Ehlers. Additionally, Central Community College-Columbus has basic welding training open to all students out of high school.
There’s even an option for GAP funding, which enables the state’s six community colleges to recruit and select eligible low-income students in eligible programs to receive grants (eligible students must have a family income at or below 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines).
“Any time I ask any business, ‘What is the No. 1 need?’ Every one of them will tell me, welders,” Ehlers said. “We have all of these amazing opportunities and we are sitting here with all of this GAP funding. How do we make society understand that having a four-year degree or being a trained and certified welder, are equal?”
That fueled a conversation between Ehlers and Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley, who were inspired by April being National Welders Month. Since 1996, the American Welding Society has designated the month of April as National Welding Month to bring awareness to the welding industry and its available career paths.
Ehlers attended the April 17th Columbus City Council meeting at the City Council Chambers to watch as Mayor Bulkley read a proclamation declaring April as Welders Month in Columbus.
“If you think of what welding means to the Columbus community, you think of all our plants and today’s technology that incorporates the different types of welding. So, one of the things we want to try and do is find a way to reach out to our youth and show them the importance of what welding can mean to them and what it means to our community, and what it means to all our businesses,” Bulkley said, adding his appreciation to Ehlers for her involvement in local workforce development and collaborating with him to spotlight welding.
“These are great opportunities. These are great opportunities that can become lifetime careers. So, this allows us to try and highlight that.”
As a bonus, Mayor Bulkley also announced he had communicated with Gov. Jim Pillen, of Columbus, about the importance of welding. The governor agreed and signed a proclamation of his own declaring Welding Month throughout the entire state. The mayor read the governor’s proclamation after his own, noting the state’s top leader had hoped to attend to read it himself at the meeting but couldn’t due to a schedule conflict.
Ehlers said she’s appreciative of the mayor and governor for recognizing the importance of welding and helping promote the importance of the skill.
“It’s a hot, tedious, dangerous job. You have to be a perfectionist to do it, but they’re not always appreciated,” Ehlers said. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with a four-year degree, but not everyone wants that. Some people are more hands-on. So, I’m hopeful our welders know they’re appreciated, and that we help our young people understand welding can be a good career right out of school.”
CCC-Columbus has a Basic Welding Training course coming up May 22-June 9, 2023. Pre-registration is required by May 15th. For more information, contact CCC’s Melissa Wortmann at 402-562-1409 or firstname.lastname@example.org.