A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

High School CTE Program, Part 2: Interviews with Welding Instructors [VIDEO]

In a previous post, I wrote about my interviews with four students who will soon graduate from Dickinson High School (DHS).  We talked about their experiences in the Manufacturing (Welding) program there, part of the school’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.  After speaking with the students, I then talked with two of their welding instructors, Mike Perry and Ricky Cox.

Mike Perry has been teaching in the welding program at DHS for six years.  Prior to teaching, Perry had worked as a welder for 20 years for a “Mom and Pop” shop, working indoors and “doing a lot of TIG welding – doing a little bit of stick and MIG and just whatever projects come up.”

I asked him what he thinks the welding program at DHS gives to the students.  Perry answered:

“It gives them a lot of real world application.  Everything that they do in here, they are going to do out there.  They get to put their hands on everything that they are going to use in the industry before they get out there.  I think that is really good for them.”

In addition to the hands-on training, the students also receive classroom instruction.  They are taught how to use the tools properly and safely, what safety equipment is required, how to set up the welding machines and how each one works, and other information the students will need out on jobsites.

I asked Perry what he would say to a young person who might be considering pursuing a career in welding.  Perry replied, “Well, if they like money, I think that would be a great avenue for them to go down.  Like Ricky [Cox] said, there are almost 100,000 [welding] jobs that need to be filled in the state of Texas.  There are a lot of jobs there for somebody who wants to go and do that kind of work.  If you like working with your hands – which most of our students that sign up for this program, they like that – it’s a good job.  It has good steady pay, and you don’t have to worry about looking for jobs; they are there for you to get.”

Ricky Cox is a welding instructor at DHS and also at San Jacinto College North Campus.  He has been teaching welding for 11 years, but only at Dickinson for the past three years.  His past experience includes teaching at Galena Park High School in nearby Harris County.  I asked Cox what he has observed about the opportunities students leaving the program at Dickinson receive.  He answered:

“The students here are able to get an AWS/American Welding Society certification.  It is a real certification, so when they go out into the job world, I usually get a call from somebody saying ‘Is this real?’ because they are so young.  But in today’s time, these young kids know how to play video games, and they probably pick up the welding faster than a grown up does.  I can attest to that from being a college instructor also, because over there it is a mix of young and old trying to get into this field.”

I asked Cox what he could tell someone who has not yet thought about being a welder “What is great about a welder’s career?”  Cox’s answer:

“Money, money, money.  Right now, the welding industry is paying very well.  I have students out there whose first jobs started between 20 to 35 dollars per hour.  That was unheard of in my day.  My first welding job was with my dad – he had a shop – that’s where I learned how when I was about ten years old.  I was always tall, so I was making a paycheck when I was about 14 at his shop because everybody thought I was older.

“Things have changed since then.  You didn’t have to have a certification back then, you just had to know what you were doing.  Today everybody wants a certification because of insurance implications.  If they know that you have a certification, then they know that you are well adapted to shop situations and safety – especially the safety portion of it.”

Even though these students leave the high school as certified welders, they are encouraged to continue their training and go for advanced certifications later.

Cox shared that the men and women in the welding industry are “following the money.”   In fact, two of his former students are currently working on pipeline in Canada and “making in the neighborhood of $1500.00 every day.”

Cox shared that there is an immense shortage of qualified welders, and that is why the welding training programs at the high schools and colleges are doing so well.  He said that there are currently nearly 800 students enrolled in the welding program at San Jacinto College.  They are training “round the clock, seven days per week – and if we could do that here [at the high school], we probably would.”  DHS had 28 seniors in the welding program this year in addition to several juniors, sophomores, and freshmen.  DHS has three welding instructors: Craig Jones teaches the introductory level course as well as Welding 1, Perry teaches mostly Welding 1, and Cox teaches the advanced courses.

Cox concluded: “It’s just a wide open industry right now.  Of course the oil industry is going down, so some of [the opportunities] have moved down, but they are still building plants around.  If you look around, you will see a lot of construction going on – a lot of welders being hired.”

Patricia Lankford, director of CTE at Dickinson High School, told me that Cox is working toward international certifications recognized in both the United States and Canada, and in fact he has more than 20 American Welding Society (AWS) Certifications [2].  He took the classes to gain these skills so that he would have the knowledge to pass on to his students.  Because of his continued education and certifications, Dickinson High School is able to help get students AWS certifications – worth much more than a simple program completion certificate. 

You can hear more of my interviews with Mike Perry and Ricky Cox in the 5½-minute video below.