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Conversations with Craft Professional Instructors at Lee College [VIDEO]

Community colleges along the Texas Gulf Coast are working overtime to meet the needs of employers and help a student population hungry for success.  Among other things I’ve learned lately, it was especially amazing to hear Lee College President Dennis Brown say many of the students enrolled in two-year programs already have four-year degrees and are returning to enhance their skills.  There is also the college’s “fast track” program – a way for the unemployed to gain critical skills in mere weeks.

I wanted to know more about their programs, so after our conversation with Brown and the rest of the Lee College leadership team, Construction Citizen took a tour of classrooms where students gain vital hands-on experience.

Pipefitting Instructor Mark Hartley told Construction Citizen he begins with the assumption that a person coming into his program knows nothing about the trade, despite the fact many of them do have at least some experience working in construction.  Hartley has to start with that assumption, he said, because
students enrolled in his classes bring a diversity of backgrounds to the table.  Some students may have worked on jobsites but others are working as cab drivers, for example.  According to Hartley, they all share at least one major thing in common, though: “They know they need a trade.”

Students who have already worked for a contractor, Hartley said, are generally up to speed about safety procedures including what clothes they need to wear.  But, “they want to improve their skills.  They’ll make more money as a pipefitter than putting a scaffold together,” he said.  “I find, even though they're working as a helper in the trade, there's a million things they'll come back to me and say ‘man, I didn't know this.’”

Pipefitting is one of those trades that has not changed all that much in the past century, Hartley said with a smile.  “Pipe is still round and people still have to put it together.”

However, Hartley said one major difference from years past is the emphasis on safety and various measures that have been put in place to ensure that craft professionals avoid injury.  “When I was a kid helping my dad do this stuff, we didn't even have guards on the grinders, and sparks would be going everywhere,” he said.  “The safety aspect of it has improved greatly.”

As is the case with many folks connected to the construction industry, Hartley was steeped in the tradition starting at an early age.  His father owned a business where Hartley cut his teeth in the trades.  “I worked with him when I was 10 years old,” Hartley said.  “Every summer and every weekend, whatever he was working on, I was right there beside him.”

Hear more of Hartley’s remarks in the following 2½-minute video:

Welding Instructor George Vance has been plying his craft for decades and enjoys putting students through the rigors of training.  In the 2-minute video below, he talked with Marti Covington of Lee College, Dean of Applied Sciences Layton Childress, and myself about his welding program.

“We do have areas where they cut metal, grind it down – that sort of thing that kind of goes along with welding, so they get experience doing that, too,” Childress said.

Dean Childress said it is quite difficult to find instructors as qualified as Hartley and Vance because pay in the industry is generally so good that teaching isn’t an option that’s very attractive financially.  “Pulling them from the industry is nearly impossible,” he said.  Those with decades of experience who are leaving the industry can be hard to wrangle as well.  “Retirement’s good so they don't need that job,” Childress said.

For more on Lee College’s “fast track” program, visit their website.  Comprehensive information about jobs in the skilled trades can be found in the Construction Citizen Craft Careers Section.  Finally, please enjoy the following 1-minute video produced by Lee College of some of their pipefitting and welding students in action: