Fifty high school teachers from throughout Kansas are attending a two-day welding workshop at no charge at Salina Technical College, thanks to the generosity and foresight of Airgas.
The company, a U.S. subsidiary of Air Liquide, is a leading supplier of industrial, medical and specialty gases, welding hardgoods, and safety products, and has more than 1,400 locations, including those in Salina, Hutchinson, and Great Bend.
The workshop, which concludes Wednesday, is a win for all involved, according to Brian Blackwood, area vice president for Airgas.
“The industry has a large need for welders. The technical school has a large need for welding students. The high school teachers that are from all across Kansas have a large need for the skills and knowledge that it takes to train high school kids enough so that they are encouraged to come to the technical school to advance that skill set that they have,” he said.
Blackwood noted that welders are retiring faster than people are entering the profession. According to the American Welding Society, a shortage of more than 200,000 skilled welding professionals is anticipated by 2020.
With local customers around the country, including in Kansas, looking for newly trained welding professionals, Airgas brought in trainers from across the nation to teach at the workshop. The company hopes that this hands-on experience will provide high school teachers with an updated understanding of welding fundamentals to share with students in their rural communities.
Blackwood, who also is a Salina Tech trustee, said he has heard first hand about the need for more welding students. He also has heard from his customers about the need for more welders. One day, it dawned on him that Airgas could help fill both of those needs, and the idea for the free teacher workshop was born.
Blackwood said he applied for and received a $20,000 grant from Airgas for the workshop. According to information from the company, Airgas is supplying “more than 40 registered teachers with hotel stays, meals, and safety products to use at lab stations during the two-day workshop. The teachers will also receive continuing education credits and certificates as they progress in fine-tuning their welding knowledge.”
In addition to the grant money being used for the teachers, Airgas also is covering the salaries of a number of its employees who are on hand to help with the workshop. Blackwood said that is another $20,000 investment Airgas is making on behalf of the welding industry.
“Airgas knows the importance of providing students with early exposure to emerging welding opportunities and to inspire younger generations to work towards a career in the metal/fabrication industry. The partnership between Airgas and these Kansas communities will allow educators across the state to re-introduce and better support welding programs in their schools,” the company noted in a news release.
Blackwood said he has two goals for the teachers participating in the workshop:
- To encourage at least one of their students each year to attend a technical college to study welding
- To encourage teaching colleagues to attend future workshops
“If this is successful, and it certainly appears to be so far, we will do this again next year,” Blackwood said of the workshop.
So what do the teachers think about the workshop?
Brooke Petty, who is the new ag and welding teacher at Southeast of Saline, said the workshop provided her an opportunity to improve her skills and knowledge on the different applications the school uses in the agriculture education shop.
“It has been really good. It’s been very informative,” Petty said. “We’ve gone over quite a few topics that have been very applicable and relatable to a lot of the ag teachers here, myself included.”
Beth Augustine, who is moving to Tonganoxie High School from Southeast of Saline, said the workshop has been a great opportunity for the teachers to enhance their knowledge of the welding industry.
“I think my favorite part thus far has been that we have all of these reps from Airgas that are directly in industry,” Augustine said.
She explained that having that direct link to the welding industry provides the teachers with additional information that they can share with their students.
Augustine said that while there is still a big push for students to pursue four-year college degrees, a number of students are interested in a shorter amount of schooling and still being able to do something that they are passionate about, such as welding.
Petty said it didn’t seem at all strange to be a female participating in a workshop for a profession that for years was male dominated.
“It’s not weird to us. There’s a huge increase in females in the industry and also in ag ed. Specifically in Kansas, too, we’re up to amost 50 percent of ag ed teachers being female,” Petty said.
Christina Hoffman, who went to school in Chapman, will begin teaching ag ed this fall in Minneapolis.
She said she is attending the workshop to gain more knowledge so that she is better prepared to teach in the shop once the school year rolls around.
“I’ve been super impressed so far,” Hoffman said. “We had this whole bag of goodies that was sponsor-provided for us and most of those tools are way out of my pay grade so far and also are things that I wouldn’t have on my own and would only be able to use if they were already in the shop.”
Hoffman also praised the workshop faculty and staff who patiently answered all questions asked.
“Overall it has been a great experience and I am looking forward to tomorrow,” she added.
Jim Weller, who is from Gypsum and currently teaches at Chapman, said he was attending the Airgas workshop to increase and update his knowledge of welding in order to provide the best education possible for his students.
Weller said the workshop has been “really nice. Really welcoming. They gave us a bag of really amazing things that we had no idea they were going to provide for us. Everybody is extremely knowledgeable. They know exactly what they are talking about.”
All of the teachers who spoke with Salina Post expressed their appreciation for Airgas providing the quality workshop at no cost to the teachers.
“It is a great opportunity provided to us completely free of charge,” Hoffman said. “As teachers in Kansas, we’re always looking for grants and opportunities like this.”