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Shortage of Pipe Welders? CMEF Says, “No Problem, We Will Fix That!”

With the ever growing need for good combination pipe welders in the industrial construction industry, new ideas and training techniques are always welcome. Consider the fact that a welder needs to not only pass a welding test before he is hired, he will also need to pass a production test once he is onsite. The requirements for a welder compared to other craftsmen are completely different. In most cases, a welder cannot just show a certification and be hired as a journeyman welder. He still has to prove himself by passing multiple welding tests. Some companies have been able to capture the individuals who do not pass the welding tests, but are fairly close and may need just a tad bit more practice.

Companies such as Turner Industries, Performance Contractors, Jacobs and KBR have been working closely with the Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation (CMEF), the training affiliate of ABC Greater Houston, to find a way to bring those welders up to a level of a stand-alone combination pipe welder. CMEF’s Craft Training Committee (CTC) has worked diligently to try to solve this problem. With the help of Carla Thompson, Sal Mellado, Joe Laughlin, and Natalie Smith, the CTC was able to develop a program which is not only innovative, but will ensure that the individuals participating in the program will be stand-alone, productive, journeyman combination pipe welders.

It is hard to find a program anywhere near to what CMEF and the CTC have developed that produce the same results and with an affordable cost attached to it. Running the program through a local community college and receiving consumables from participating companies ensures that the price is affordable for CMEF’s contributing companies. Working closely with San Jacinto College and Dr. JD Taliaferro, CMEF was able to be in complete control of the curriculum, the outcomes, the entrance exams, and the students who participate.

The students are handpicked by company representatives and have to pass an extensive entrance exam to be eligible to enter the program. Once they enter the program, they follow an individualized, detailed map of how they get to the point of being a pipe welder, which includes progression tests throughout the 16-week training. The course was designed to be 95% hands-on training and only 5% lecture. Booth time is the main objective.

The course was not developed to earn a certificate or to receive any kind of credentials, it was developed to produce combination pipe welders, period. Obviously, the students should feel very fortunate to be handpicked to be a part of something that is so innovative, but they also need to realize, all eyes are on them. This program has picked up a lot of attention in the Houston area and is expected to grow tremendously as the word gets out about how effective this training really is.

“We know in this industry that good combination welders are at a premium," said Carla Thompson of Turner Industries. "Being able to grow our own employees into these combination welding positions and then open up opportunities for other people to learn our industry is a win. The people taking this program are so close to being able to fill combination welding journey level positions. Booth/practice time is what is lacking. The skill level is there. The goal is to create a productive welder. If we can get the upgrade done in sixteen weeks, we have accomplished a lot.” 

“Great, quality combo welders are hard to find in our industry," Sal Mellado of Performance Contractors said. "With this program, we are moving training to the next level. It is exciting to see the development of a welder to a great, quality combo welder.” 

CMEF is leading the charge for industrial training in the Gulf Coast Region, and the CTC is the driving force behind CMEF. Knowing that CMEF has such an impact on the industrial construction industry and having the support of many of the owners and contractors in the Houston area makes it very important that CMEF is the innovator and works nonstop trying to contribute to the workforce shortage issues that everyone is anticipating. CMEF sponsors, trains, and tests thousands of individuals each year. It is CMEF’s responsibility to be sure we are doing it right and guiding these individuals on the right path to success.

With help from our Construction Careers Youth Committee (CCYC) and Dr. Steven Horton, we are able to train and guide teenagers at 38 different high schools which encompass over 3,000 high school students. We currently offer training at three different college campuses and at our CMEF office in La Porte. We plan to pick up new facilities this year, and the amount of students we train will increase dramatically. The traditional way of training still works in some situations, but as we found out while developing this combination welding program, it doesn’t work in all situations. CMEF plans to continue to expand our welding program and sees this way of training as a new standard of training for combination pipe welders.