[Masthead] Overcast ~ 64°F  
High: 78°F ~ Low: 59°F
Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Students weld a future at TTCS

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kieffer Compton designs a dreamcatcher on the CNC machine at Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville.
(T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds) [Order this photo]
Twenty-two students at a local vocational school are turning metal into artwork, and in the process are being welded into future professionals.

Welding students create works of art from metal as part of their training.
(T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds)
Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville is using a computer numerical controller (CNC) system for advanced training in welding. The school bought the machine last year, welding instructor Tim Holder said.

In some cases, the machine can make a part in one-eighth of the time that it would take to make the part by hand, Holder said. So, a part that would normally take eight hours to make could be made in as little as 30 minutes, he said. Students use the machine's computer to draw a design, which is created by a machine table that cuts the shapes to the exact specifications.

Kieffer Compton was using the CNC system Wednesday to design a dreamcatcher. The Marshall County High School graduate said he has been enrolled in the welding program for about five months. He said he wants to do tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding once he graduates, but he is open to any welding job. Compton said he and the other students delight in creating nature scenes, animals and signs in the course of learning to weld.

Thomas Davis, another student, said he is nearly done with his studies and can do stick, TIG and gas metal arc (MIG) welding. He said he is ready to find a company to work at for his co-op experience, which is the equivalent of an internship for welders. The 2004 Cascade High School graduate said he developed a passion for welding from his grandfather, who was a pipe welder and worked on construction equipment for a highway department.

"It's my favorite thing," Davis said. "It's easy to pick it up (now, with training), and I enjoy doing it."

Sending a message

David Williams works on a large block of metal. Instructor Tim Holder says the metal block is used for practicing basic welding concepts.
(T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds)
At 55, Willard Bain is older than many of the other students in the program, but he brings 33 years of welding experience to the classroom. Bain said he is certified in stick, MIG, flux core and TIG welding, and he has experience in structural steel welding. But, he's studying at the technology center to show potential employers that he is dedicated to learning and improving his craft.

"Even with my experience, I'm still learning things here," Bain said. "Even though I'm certified in TIG, I didn't do a lot of it. I want to get better."

Bain's goal is to work in pipe welding, which he says provides a good income.

Next generation

Welding is a high-demand field, in part because the average age of a welder is 53 and new workers are needed, Holder said.

A TTCS student at work.
(T-G Photo by Jim Davis)
"It's not a dying field," he said. "It's progressing in technology, especially with the CNC."

As a rule of thumb, Holder said he tells the students that welding is only one-third welding and two-thirds cleaning and preparation. Designing the product and cleaning up are vital skills, he said.

Students start off by taking a safety class, and only after they successfully complete that training do they move on to cutting torch operations, Holder said. Arc, MIG, TIG and CNC welding then follow. Other topics include reading blueprints and learning to provide estimates for welding jobs.


Students who complete the entire program at the technology center earn a combination welding diploma, said Holder, who is himself a graduate of the program. Students can choose to complete only part of the program and earn certificates in either MIG, shielded metal arc or tack welding.

The full program lasts 1,296 hours, split into three trimesters, which takes about a year. Students can opt to spend the last trimester doing a co-op at a business. Holder said he helps students set up a co-op once they find a company to work at.

High pay

Experienced welders can earn six-figure salaries, Holder said, which often happens in underwater welding, which is a highly specialized field.

Entry-level jobs may start at $10 to $12 per hour, but welders can work their way up the career ladder.

"Your trade is going to last you through the years," he said. "The more you learn, the more you make."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration:

Related subjects