When Eli Young was in eighth grade, a teacher asked him what career he might be interested in after he graduated from high school.
As the conversation went on, the two began discussing welding and all of the job opportunities available, sparking an interest in Young.
“We started talking about offshore and underwater welding, and I’ve been more than just interested in it ever since,” the now high school senior said.
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The discussion became a driving force for Young, who along with classmate Trever Stuckwisch are the first students to receive industry certification in welding from Seymour High School’s new welding program.
Both students passed their certification exam in shielded metal arc welding, often referred to as stick welding, in December. They also are learning gas metal arc welding, called metal inert gas or MIG welding, and tungsten inert gas, or TIG welding, which they will be certified in still this school year.
This marks the first year SHS students have the ability to earn college credit and industry certifications through Ivy Tech Community College while learning the in-demand, highly skilled trade of welding.
Thanks to the school corporation’s ongoing investment in vocational education and career pathways, students now have access to a state-of-the art, industry-approved welding lab at the school’s Ag-Science and Research Farm located in Freeman Field Industrial Park.
Last year, the school corporation spent more than $150,000 to purchase the needed welding equipment to have 10 welding bays.
“The welding lab is amazing, and I love going there and practicing every day,” Young said.
The welding course is taught by Caleb Tyler, a certified welding instructor from Ivy Tech Community College.
There are 13 students in the program now, including five seniors, but Tyler expects that number to grow as word of the program spreads among students and in the community. The class meets every day from 12:30 to 2:45 p.m.
In the past, students have been able to enroll in the C4 Columbus Area Career Connection program at Columbus North High School for welding, but the travel time took more than an hour out of students’ instructional time each day.
“By offering the welding class here, if nothing else, it benefits the students not having to go outside of the community to learn a skill,” Tyler said.
The SHS welding lab is a smaller version of Ivy Tech’s welding lab, Tyler said, so when students graduate, they are more likely to enroll in college welding classes because they are familiar with the setup.
“It’s got all the same, or if not the same, similar equipment to what we have up there,” he said.
Now that Young has earned his first welding certification, he doesn’t plan to stop there. He wants to pursue a career in the field that will lead to an exciting future and a big paycheck.
“I want to get all the certifications and learn everything I can to be eligible for offshore welding,” Young said.
The typical welder salary varies due to experience levels but can range between $42,000 to $66,000 a year. Because of the high level of skill it takes to perform welding work underwater, the typical offshore underwater welder can make $80,000 a year to begin and as much as $200,000 after gaining years of experience.
To get that experience, Young plans to use his certification to get a job at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing Inc. in Walesboro. While working, he still wants to pursue his education to earn his executive welding degree from Ivy Tech in Columbus.
Passing his first certification has given him the confidence to go further and do more, he said.
“I was really excited to take my first certification test, and I’m excited to take my next ones. I plan to get the highest welding degree I can,” he said.
“It felt really good,” Stuckwisch said of passing. “I was really nervous on test day. I don’t know who was more nervous, me or Mr. Tyler.”
For Stuckwisch, welding is more just a practical and useful skill to have, especially living and working on a farm.
“I’ll be using it (welding) on our family farm,” he said.
His former boss, Chase Plumer of Plumer Hay Farms, did welding and was the one who got him interested in learning how to do it, Stuckwisch said.
He began welding classes last year through C4 and liked it so much, he decided to continue and will graduate from the SHS/Ivy Tech welding program this spring.
“Trever and Elijah will walk out of the program and will have a structural welding certification, which consists of seven total classes, which range from entry-level welding all the way up to their certification classes in all three processes,” Tyler said.
By earning their certifications, they also are much closer to earning an associate degree in welding from Ivy Tech, Tyler said.
“Instead of a two-year degree, they can finish it in one,” he said.
Young and Stuckwisch said their options would have been more limited and difficult to achieve if it wasn’t for SHS’s strong commitment to providing students with education, skills and experiences geared toward helping them obtain careers in skilled trades.
“I think it’s really important for high-schoolers to learn to start the trade they plan to pursue as early as possible,” Young said.
“It just makes it a whole lot easier,” Stuckwisch said. “We get more time in the welding lab than we would have in Columbus. It just makes it easier on everybody.”
Tyler said welding is a great field to go into because of the number of jobs available now and in the future.
“It’s an in-demand skill,” he said. “The outlook by 2022 is there’s supposed to be something in the ballpark of 25,000 to 40,000 more jobs in the industry, and that’s all levels of welding.”
The need for so many welders is a result of the baby boomer generation, which is retiring and leaving the workforce, Tyler said.
SHS Assistant Principal Talmadge Reasoner described the program as a “big move” for the school.
“Trades are a big thing for us because for the last 20 years, we’ve been telling kids if they didn’t go to college that they haven’t done so well,” he said. “We all know that’s just not true because there are a lot of skilled people in our schools that want to go into the skilled trade jobs.”
Reasoner said it also fills the gap local employers are looking for with skilled positions. He said recent discussion with a manufacturer showed the company had skilled positions open for lengths of time, and in some case, years.
Those opportunities could lead to another potential benefit to the program, Reasoner said, and that’s keeping students in the community following their graduation.
“We want to keep them here and working with our local businesses,” he said.
The program also gives the school an opportunity to offer certification programs to the community through Ivy Tech, which is part of its long-term plan.
But Reasoner said he is excited to see that the school continues to offer skilled-trade curriculum to students. The school offers manufacturing, diesel apprenticeships, certified nursing programs, construction, cosmetology and more.
“I think one of the neat things about Seymour Community Schools is that for a small community in rural southern Indiana, we tend to kind of be on the leading edge when it comes to new programs and new educational opportunities for our students,” Reasoner said. “This is one more opportunity to continue in that same theme.”
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What: Seymour High School Ag-Science and Research Farm open house
When: 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: 721 F Ave. East in Freeman Field Industrial Park, Seymour
The public can tour the new welding lab, along with the food science lab and classrooms and learn more about opportunities offered at the facility. Light refreshments will be served.