U-46 seeks to start accredited regional welding program
Elgin schools officials are considering launching a new career pathway program in welding in partnership with neighboring school districts.
For 45 years, welding has been offered only at Elgin High School. In the future, students from the other four high schools in Elgin Area School District U-46 could take advantage of the new program and likely attend welding class at Elgin High, officials said.
Officials also are working on an agreement with St. Charles High School District 303, Community Unit District 300 in Algonquin and Burlington Central School District 301 to share costs and make the program available to their high school students as well.
"We have a metals technology lab. We are aligning our metals technology program to American Welding Society standards," Kinasha Brown, U-46 coordinator of career and technical education, told the school board this week.
A growing industry demand is prompting the move. The total number of jobs for welders, solderers, cutters and brazers is anticipated to grow 4 percent through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And with an aging workforce, many current welders will be retiring.
Manufacturing is the top industry in the Elgin area, but finding qualified skilled candidates for jobs has been tough the last several years, said Tom Mihelic, president of a local franchise of Manpower employment agency who helped develop U-46's new welding curriculum.
"My family has been running the Manpower business since 1972 in Kane County, so we have been staffing for manufacturers for over 40 years," Mihelic said. "The No. 1 (problem) is companies can't find skilled (workers). Elgin has an excellent manufacturing base. ... The challenge is we don't have the talent that wants to come into manufacturing."
The manufacturing industry likely is facing the need for 3.4 million workers and an expected shortage of 2 million workers over the next decade, according to a 2015 skills gap study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte.
Employers need to work with schools to develop the next generation of manufacturing workers, Mihelic said.
U-46 and District 300 could offer identical welding certification programs accredited through the American Welding Society -- something even Elgin Community College doesn't offer. They would become the only AWS-accredited testing facilities for welding in the region, Brown said.
Students from partnering districts could attend welding class at Elgin or Hampshire high schools -- District 300 offers a welding technology career pathway program at Hampshire in partnership with ECC for dual credit.
Superintendents are determining cost-sharing, location, transportation, tuition and scheduling and how the districts can pool their resources.
"It is really hard to replicate five welding programs when we can have one or two exceptional welding programs and allow students to have access to those programs," Brown said. "This is the first time this is being done in the state."
At Elgin High the metals technology lab has not been updated in 20 years. Officials propose using state and federal funds to renovate and transform it into a state-of-the-art facility. Projected costs are $203,000 for equipment, $66,000 for supplies and $85,000 for construction; textbooks, technologies and instructional materials don't need updating.
The curriculum would include a new fundamentals of welding course, incorporating safety and blueprint reading, and skilled metals technology courses.
Officials propose to get the program approved and register students by fall 2018.