It was a day of celebration as the first 15 students to enroll in the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center's (SVHEC) Welding program walked across the Prizery's stage to receive their certificates of completion. The completion ceremony marked the end of a journey started 16 months ago for these newly minted welders.
"Livelihoods and America are depending on you and your skills. Go out from here and make your impact on the world," said keynote speaker Leslie "Tyke" Tenney. Tenney is the executive director of Virginia Technical Institute, which serves as the official sponsor of the SVHEC's welding program.
Program completer Garrie Dye gave reflections on his time in the program. "I not only gained welding experience but also life experience like determination and perseverance. I came to the class looking for a new job, but in graduating I have the opportunity for a new career not just a job," he stated.
Students in the first cohort to complete the Welding@SVHEC program earned a combined total of 88 stackable, industry-recognized credentials. Students earned credentials for the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) CORE & Welding Levels 1-3, the American Welding Society (AWS) SENSE program, and the National Career Readiness Certificate. The students' AWS credentials acknowledge they have met basic requirements to sit for AWS certification.
"Having the NCCER nationally recognized credential means they can go to any state, show their blue card, and have their skills recognized," Tenney said.
Welding@SVHEC is presented in sequenced modules and takes, on average, 60 weeks to complete. The program teaches students MIG, TIG, Stick, and Pipe welding in the SVHEC's state-of-the art 10-bay welding lab. After completing the initial safety lessons students spend 80% of their time in the welding lab. Many students completing the program started with no previous welding experience. They are now nationally certified welders with the skills needed for employment. "It's amazing to see the growth in them," Welding@SVHEC instructor Troy Comer stated.
Welding@SVHEC was developed in direct response to employer requests for more trained, certified welders. Nationally, employment in welding is expected to grow 6% from 2012-2022, with a projected job growth of 8% in the state of Virginia. The SVHEC's Workforce Advancement team worked with Virginia Technical Institute in Altavista, VA to bring this accredited training program to South Boston. The SVHEC will begin a new cohort of students in January 2016. Interested individuals are encouraged to apply now.