Around the time many workers start winding down for the week, a group dubbed the “Weekend Welders” gets to work.
A group of nine people, ages 18 to 55 with seven men and two women, meet at the Magoffin County Career and Technical Center every Thursday and Friday evening, as well as Saturday mornings, in efforts to receive welding, OSHA and forklift certifications that will make them more employable.
Vickie Jo Howard, with the Adult Learning Center, explained that with several partners, they were able to offer a certified nursing assistant (CNA) course last year, but since last fall she has been trying to get a welding program started here to help people affected by the decline in coal.
“Both programs were created for people who don’t have high school diplomas, specifically displaced workers, where there is funding available,” Howard explained. “Spots became available later for students with diplomas.”
The new welding program, going on now, runs for 10 weeks, with 100 hours of training. Big Sandy Career and Technical College provide the instructor, Scott Linkous, who is a welder with 25 years’ experience.
And the cost to the students? Absolutely free.
“Working in adult education, a lot of our students have had difficult times or hardships and may even have a hard time getting gas money to get to the classes,” Howard said. “That’s why it’s so important to offer these classes here to help our community.”
Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) is footing the bill for the program itself, leaving the students to only worry about learning the skills and passing the tests.
“Some of them have backgrounds in welding at Continental, but now with SilverLiner coming in at Pikeville and Logan here, it’s a different type of welding, so they’re learning how to work with aluminum, which is what they would need to know to be hired,” Howard said.
The welding program, much like the CNA program, provides hands-on job training, which Howard explained can help the students find jobs quicker.
“I really think the motivation is what works,” Howard said. “A lot of these guys felt like they couldn’t do it, but you get them past that first test and they take a lot of pride in that.”
One student, Calvin Wireman, explained that he quit school to go to work for the coal mines running equipment.
“I went to work making $13 an hour on a dozer, and that was good money, then (the early 2000s), so couldn’t pass it up,” Wireman said.
With the decline of the coal industry in the area, jobs like Wireman’s started becoming unsteady and sporadic.
“You can’t have a mortgage or buy a car if you don’t know when you’ll be working,” Wireman said.
Since the program started in June, Wireman has already passed one of his tests, making him well on his way to receive several certifications
The welders’ instructor, Scott Linkous, reiterated how a lot of work around here is not stable.
“It’s not steady enough to stay home,” Linkous said. “I have people from Eastern Kentucky in the Carolinas and in Texas, and if I hadn’t got the job teaching at the college, I was about to go to the Carolinas and work.”
With Logan Corporation locating to Salyersville a couple years ago and SilverLiner looking to hire in Pikeville, the “Weekend Welder’s” will have more opportunities.
Vince Minix, the director of the Magoffin County Career and Technical Center, said he looks at the program as an investment.
“This is an investment in the community,” Minix said. “If we have the workforce, I think the industry will come. This is a unique opportunity for local adults and dislocated workers to get to learn a new skill.”
Linkous said the certifications will get the students recognized by companies.
“The certification gets them the recognition with the companies to get the interview for the job,” Linkous said. “The certification says he can weld, so they’ll hire the one they know can weld. They’ll still need to take the test once on the job, but this gets them in the door.”
Linkous said he will get everyone in the program certified, but how many certifications the students receive is completely up to them.
The main certification this 10-week program is focusing on is the Kentucky State DOT Institute 2G Weld Test, where they have to weld two pieces of aluminum to a bar of aluminum, then bend it and cut it in half to prove it’s a strong weld.
Howard also explained many of the students have full-time jobs and four are seeking their GEDs. The Adult Learning Center has a GED program, now entering its third year, which helps participants practice for and take the tests, with companies even providing vouchers to cover the costs of the tests.
Howard encouraged anyone in Magoffin wanting help to earn their GEDs, finding jobs or getting into college, to visit the Adult Learning Center.
“We try to make it easier for them and that’s why I wanted these programs here in Magoffin,” Howard said. “I think we need this here. Some don’t have transportation.”
She emphasized that the GED tests, especially the mathematics portion, are difficult and that they try to encourage the students to not let one bad score get them down.
“You only fail if you quit, so we’ll just try, again,” Howard said she tells the students. “It’s been a rewarding program to see people feel better about themselves and be successful. Most of the people are here to just make their lives better for their families.”
Partnering agencies for the welding program include Magoffin County Skills U (Adult Ed), Magoffin County Career & Tech Center, Magoffin County Schools, Big Sandy Community & Technical College, EKCEP, Community Action Program and Logan Corporation.
Vickie Howard, Vince Minix, Scott Helton, Sally Porter, Kelli Chaney, Jeff Whitehead, Mae Shurow, and Randy Risner are all listed as organizers for the program.