July 2009 - Today, most welders who lift up their helmet will reveal a seasoned face with wrinkles and graying hair. According to the American Welding Society, Miami, the average welder is in his or her mid-50s, and as this generation retires, the industry could be facing a welder shortage as great as 200,000 by 2010.
"Somewhere along the way in our country, people decided that working hard and getting dirty is bad," says Dawn Bravo, co-owner of the Tulsa Welding School, an institution focused on filling our nation's welder shortage with a new generation of passionate, talented welders.
It's the school's mission to prove that hands-on professions such as welding can be as fulfilling and economically stable as any white-collar job, and it does this through recruiting, a comprehensive curriculum, maximized hands-on training, and a heavy focus on job preparation and placement for graduates.
The school, with campuses in Tulsa, Okla., and Jacksonville, Fla., was founded in 1949 and today is the largest accredited welding school in the nation, with more than 1,000 students from every state getting more than 750 hours of welding experience over the course of the seven-month curriculum. Students spend only one day a week in a classroom versus four in the lab actually welding.
There are also students graduating every three weeks, meaning there's a continuous supply of new welders, year-round, for companies in need.
"We teach all areas of welding," says Bravo. "We teach 10 phases of welding, including structural, process, downhill, pipe and aluminum."
Job well done
Along with its up-to-date curriculum, created in collaboration with the school's board of welding industry leaders, the Tulsa Welding School has a career services office that helps graduates find companies and jobs that fit their skills. Companies can also use the office to search for a perfect candidate--free of cost.
"We're a free service to employers," says Bravo. "There's absolutely no charge for looking at a Tulsa welding school student. We'll happily send you as many resumes as you want, and then you can pick who you want to interview. Unlike an employment service, where they're charging for that service and selling their candidates like crazy, we've got another 30 kids graduating in the next three weeks. So if you don't like one group, we'll get you somebody else."
For graduates, the school also offers lifetime placement for a student in good standing, meaning a welder who graduated 10 or 15 years ago and is in need of a new job can use the school's career placement services.
For as much emphasis as the Tulsa Welding School puts on helping students upon graduation, it puts even more on its recruitment efforts. It has 18 representatives who talk to 25,000 high school students a year about the many benefits of a welding career. Naturally, one of the biggest selling points for students is the monetary benefits.
"I call it a smart investment," says Bravo. "Our tuition runs around $15,000, but for a graduate, their lowest wage in a worst-case scenario is going to be at least twice that. Go to some universities and talk to a graduate and their tuition was four times what they made their first year. We're the reverse."
Bravo, along with her business partner, Larry Brown, decided to purchase the Tulsa Welding School a few years ago after the Minneapolis bridge collapse. Realizing the amount of money that would be poured into infrastructure projects, and recognizing that welding is the backbone of those projects, Bravo and Brown saw an opportunity to help the country retain its welding class and rebuild itself. Because, as Bravo says, the United States is in great need of talented, trained welders and will be for decades to come.
"When we go out and get a person interested in welding, everybody benefits," she says. MM