Certified Skills

By Beacon Staff

Skilled trades positions remain the most difficult to fill across the U.S., according to a firm that specializes in workforce research.

ManpowerGroup polled more than 1,000 employers for its annual Talent Shortage Survey to provide insight into the supply and demand of the American workforce.

For the fourth consecutive year, businesses reported that employees with trade skills like welding, carpentry and machining were the hardest to find. When asked why, 48 percent of employers said the pool of candidates lacked technical competency and hard skills, and 32 percent said there were simply no available candidates.

Inside the vast workshop on the campus of Flathead Valley Community College, Jack Bell is helping combat that shortage.

Bell teaches welding and nondestructive testing in FVCC’s Career and Technical Education Department. Under Bell’s tutelage, students learn the skilled intricacies of welding with hands-on training using 30 top-notch machines.

FVCC recently achieved a milestone inside its welding workshop that has expanded the job possibilities for its students and other locals trying to find work on a national level.

The American Welding Society has certified FVCC’s welding facility as a nationally accredited test site, making it only the second accredited workshop in the state and 93rd in the U.S. The college in Great Falls is the only other accredited site in Montana.

Before now, students were trained and qualified with a local endorsement from FVCC. Now the school is able to offer an endorsement recognized around the globe by awarding national certification to students or residents who pass the official AWS test.

“That means it will be easier for our students to apply nationally for a job,” Bell said. “It’s recognized all over the U.S. and in some countries.”

In order to achieve accreditation, FVCC’s welding department had to undergo a rigorous application and inspection process to ensure the facility, equipment and personnel met certain standards. The entire process took over six months before FVCC earned the rare distinction.

“In this competitive job market, the welders with AWS certification are going to get the jobs over similarly skilled welders without it,” FVCC Director of Career and Technical Education Pete Wade said.

The new certification will benefit both students and local companies that want to train their employees at the highest level. Wade said he has already received interest from local employers who want to send their staff over to train and receive certification. High school shop teachers from across Montana are also tapping into the quality resource.

This semester’s class of roughly 20 students will have the first chance at achieving national certification at FVCC.

The test arrives at the end of an extensive program that focuses on more than just welding. FVCC is the only institution in Montana that teaches nondestructive testing, which is the procedure of ensuring something like an automobile is structurally sound without breaking it apart.

“You don’t fly, you don’t ride on a railroad track, you probably don’t go into a high rise building that hasn’t been nondestructive tested,” Bell said.

Inside the workshop, Bell’s students learn how to use X-ray and ultrasound equipment to test objects large and small. The lessons they learn during that process directly benefit the quality of their welding.

“The NDT field is wide open for female and male students. It’s a golden opportunity,” Bell said.

Mike Turcotte enrolled in FVCC’s welding and nondestructive testing courses with limited experience. Now that he has learned from Bell and is preparing to take his certification test, he’s optimistic that job opportunities won’t be hard to come by.

“To be able to come in and get the time on the welders and get to practice before you take the test, you can’t replace that,” Turcotte said.

“This means the difference between working just in Montana and being able to go nationwide and even worldwide. It’s a big deal for us.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.