Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Big Bucks In Welding

By Duwayne Escobedo

Ever think about welding? In as little as three semesters, a student could be qualified to become a welder, a physically demanding but high-paying job.

The Pensacola State College Welding Program has really taken off, according to Dr. Ed Meadows, the college’s president.

“There’s a good and bad part about the welding program. The good part is that we have full classes, and we have high, high graduation completion rates. The bad part is that they’re getting jobs in Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama,” he said.

“I think that now that we’re producing welders we’re going to see a surge in that industry moving into Northwest Florida,” said Dr. Meadows. “With the shipyards being as close as they are, metal fabrication is in high demand. Five of our welding students who completed were invited to go over and be tested at Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula. Every one of them got offered a job before they left.”

Dan Busse, the dean of workforce education and vocational support, said it’s common for PSC welding students to go to work for companies along the Gulf Coast region, such as Bell Steel, Austal, and Ingalls.

“Where else can you go and have a potential to make over a $100,000 a year,” said Busse.

The pay is why 55-year-old Angie Hathaway, a mother of one son, is leaving her office job to become a welder. She has one more semester.

“This is not a girly girl’s work,” said Hathaway, who shows off welding burns on her right arm. “If you’re afraid of breaking a nail, this is not for you. Any girl who is determined can do this job. I’m pretty tough.”

PSC students take the welding course on the Milton campus baseball field that has been converted into a welding haven. The two dugouts have been converted into workstations for gas tungsten arc welding by former students.

The college bought two big semi-tractor trailers, costing more than $200,000. One houses welding simulators, which cost about $40,000 each, and the other one allows live arc welding.

A shed houses all the tools welders use and another building allows for classroom instruction and houses an office for the instructor Jaq Rolison. He’s a master welder with more than 35 years of experience, who is a certified Master Welding Inspector.

PSC has begun offering courses that teach trades in high-demand jobs that can be completed in as little as a year and are considered cheap compared to other institutions. In fact, students are eligible for financial aid or scholarships just like they are in typical academic programs.

The Engineering Technology department offers about two-dozen vocational programs that train students in fields ranging from HVAC and plumber to electrician and welder.

Rolison encourages young men and women to take the program that can serve 20 students per class.

“The demand is there,” the welding professor said. “Construction pipe welders make the most money. I’ve made a lot of money and spent a lot of money, I’m not going to lie.”