Courier News: 20K grant from IMPAQ/Maher-Maher Foundation funds welding class at RVCC
Paul Grzella, Contributor
Published 5:00 a.m. ET March 29, 2019
Kaleb Wegner is a team member for the Chick-fil-A restaurant in Flemington, and the Phillipsburg resident also does custodial work for his church.
Bridgewater resident Chase Brickman is head of maintenance for the Northlandz railroad museum in Raritan Township, and does volunteer work at the Black River and Western Railroad, which operates vintage locomotives in Hunterdon County.
Daniel Frias has three jobs – doing clerical work at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, working at the Branchburg ShopRite, and operating his own small moving company.
These three young men work hard, and aren’t afraid of hard work, but that doesn’t mean they are satisfied with their current employment or salaries. That’s why they and eight other people from around the region are spending their Tuesday and Thursday nights this spring learning American Welding Society MIG (metal inert gas) welding in a class offered at Raritan Valley Community College’s Workforce Training Center.
“I learned about welding doing some different things at Black River and it seems like a lot of fun,” Brickman said. “This class seems like it will be a good opportunity to learn more.”
At the conclusion of their 104-hour course, they will have a welding certificate and the opportunity to start working at a manufacturing job earning $14.50 to $15.50 an hour, with benefits, and the skills to do piece work, which could earn them $1,000 to $3,000 more, instructor Michael Hart said.
“Everywhere you look you will see some type of type of welding,” said Hart, who also teaches at the Garden State Correctional Facility in Trenton. Noting that many people in this field are reaching retirement age, Hart continued, “there is always something going on in the world that generates the need for welders.”
This is the second group, or cohort, of students being taught by Hart. The first group of four students completed the course with jobs waiting for them.
Funding for the program
This second cohort is larger thanks to a $20,000 grant for the class obtained by the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board, a public-private partnership responsible for the oversight of workforce training and education systems in Hunterdon and Somerset counties. The board does this by leveraging federal and state investment grants for various programs.
In a first-of-its-type effort, the board applied for and received earlier this winter an IMPAQ/Maher Education Fund grant. The Maryland-based IMPAQ International helps governments, business, foundations, non-profits and universities evaluate and enhance their programs and policies through a variety of strategies, including private grants, in seven offices worldwide.
The grant is paying for the class time and tests needed for the students’ training, as well as for additional equipment that can be used by these and future students.
The IMPAQ/Maher Education Fund grant to the Greater Raritan board was one of three given out this year to workforce agencies; the other two grants were to programs in Millersville and Largo, Maryland. The grant monies aim to expand and extend the services offered by the workforce boards.
“We congratulate these organizations, which are working hard to support economic expansion and develop the talent of our nation’s workforce,” said IMPAQ/Maher Education Fund creators Avi Benus and Rick Maher. “The research and services they provide to both job seekers and employers, often at no cost, are important aspects of our national Workforce Development System, and we are proud to support their efforts.”
For the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board, the successful application of the grant money represents the realization of a long-time strategic priority by the board and staff to capture additional non-federal or non-state monies to fund programs and classes that help residents in Hunterdon and Somerset counties find and develop long-term sustainable careers.
“This project delivers specific training and education that meets the needs of employers and prepares job seekers with marketable skills and requisite credentials that can lead to livable wage employment,” said Aubrey Flanagan, policy, planning and business services specialist for the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board.
The program also is building on and strengthening the partnership with Raritan Valley Community College, one of many partners the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board works with, added Board Chair Michelle Satanik.
“This grant uses the existing training and education resources available at Raritan Valley, while advancing the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board’s priority of career pathways, and not just employment,” Satanik said.
Learning at the Workforce Training Center
The college’s Workforce Training Center, opened in the spring of 2017, provides state-of-the-art training facilities and flexible workspace that can be configured to meet a variety of training needs. Working in collaboration with a variety of local small, medium and large industry partners, the division seeks to identify training gaps in mid-level skill occupations and develop programs based on current employment data.
The aim is to ensure that graduates have the skills, knowledge and abilities to find meaningful, career-minded employment. To date, 160 graduates of RVCC’s Advanced Manufacturing program have been hired by employer partners. The training center also is home to a variety of other programs, including automotive technology, commercial energy management and the beauty professions.
On a recent Tuesday night, during the welding program’s second week, students talked with Hart, who has been working in welding for 37 years, about a variety of issues, including job safety, welding techniques and opportunities their welding certificate could open for them in New Jersey and beyond.
“With some basic welding skills, you also can learn stick welding to help out with all types of production work,” Hart said, ranging from bicycles and motorcycles to ships and massive manufacturing projects. “And if you are willing to travel, there are opportunities in other parts of the world.
“This can be a stepping stone to get something better elsewhere,” he added.
To help the students get “the feel, touch and smell of welding,” Hart took them over to the next classroom filled with a variety of equipment and ventilated work stations. The students started by ensuring they had on heavy gloves and their arms covered to protect their bodies from splatter. Each also wore brand-new metal masks with visors that protect their heads and provide shielding for their eyes from the light generated in the welding process – exposure without this protection can burn eyes and skin.
The students practiced making cuts on steel pieces, and started to do different welds. MIG welding uses electricity to melt and join pieces of metal. For these beginners, the practice class included constant reminders on how to wear safety equipment and reviews of how to use their wire-fed welding gun to fuse metals and create welds. MIG welding can be used on many different metals, from carbon steels to aluminum to different types of alloys.
After making their practice metal cuts, the students practiced making acceptable weld bead. As part of their instruction, they also are learning how to use the tank that provides the gas that mixes with electricity that melts the metal and allows the wire in the welding gun to fuse with the metal being welded.
At the end of the course, a trailer will be brought on site where the students will do their final welding projects in front of professional welders. If they pass, they will receive an American Welding Society (AWS) certificate, which will allow them to begin looking for welding employment careers, locally, regionally and nationally.
Raritan Valley Community College’s Workforce Training Center, on the Branchburg campus, is hosting a Showcase of its services on Thursday, April 4, at 4 p.m. Highlighted programs included advanced manufacturing, welding, beauty professions, environmental control/HVAC, automotive technology, appliance repair, and commercial energy management/building automation. Showcase attendees can tour the facility, meet with program coordinators, instructors and program graduates; and network with employers and community leaders. RSVP to Elizabeth Coccia at Elizabeth.Coccia@raritanval.edu.
The Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board works to ensure that workforce training and education efforts in Hunterdon and Somerset counties are responsive and meet the needs of employers and job seekers. The board works with a variety of public and private partners, including private-sector employers, to meet these goals. The work also includes oversight of the One Stop Career Centers in Somerville and Flemington. To learn more, including how to join the board, visit www.thegrwdb.org. The board also is interested in working with other private foundations interested in funding workforce training and sustainable career development. For details, call 908-203-6044 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul Grzella is interim director of the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board.