The Bureau goes on to say that with the nation’s aging infrastructure, it will be necessary to have more of these men and women available to help “rebuild bridges, highways, and buildings,” not to mention the thousands of miles of pipes and pipelines that crisscross the nation and are found in just about every manufacturing facility there is.
Northeast Community College has been training the next generation of welders for decades and continues to hear of the need for new workers from area business and industry. Graduates of the welding program at the College’s South Sioux City Extended Campus testify that their learning experience has trained them well for work in the field.
After what he described as “bouncing from dead-end job to dead-end job,” Chance Rohlk decided to go to college to earn a degree in welding. After graduating in 2012, Rohlk, of Sioux City, IA, said he moved into a full-time career as a welder.
“Basically the sky is the limit. I can travel anywhere in the United States and work anywhere I want.”
Rohlk became a member of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 33 in Iowa where he was presented with the chapter’s Excellence in Apprenticeship Award in 2014. It signified his distinction as a third year pipe trades apprentice, and for outstanding leadership and scholastic achievement.
Lauren Connot, of Sioux City, IA, graduated a year early from high school when she was 17. She worked a number of jobs before enrolling in a criminal justice course at another college, but learned it was not something she was interested in.
She had wanted to go back to college for several years, but was not in a position where she could do so. A few weeks before semester started, she told herself, ‘I need to get back in school.’ I had seen welding many times, but I had never done any welding myself.”
Although she did not have any exposure to the trade, Connot took a leap a faith and enrolled in the Northeast program.
“I had a lot of people who I knew who had gone to other schools and others who were in the welding program, as well as other students who were familiar with Northeast, especially here in South Sioux City. Every person I talked to pretty much said that ‘Northeast was the place.’ Since I am from Sioux City, this is just right across the bridge … this was a no brainer that this was the place I wanted to go.”
Connot said it was a good field to go into with so many job opportunities as welders are needed across the country. She said although there are automated welding systems, people are still needed in the field doing certain welds on particular types of material.
“I knew I didn’t want to sit at a desk; I really wanted to work with my hands.”
A classmate of Connot’s, Juan Herrera, of South Sioux City, had a few friends who enrolled in the Northeast program and told him about instructor Pat McCarville, a welding veteran with 40-years’ experience in the field and over a decade in the classroom.
Herrera made the decision to work essentially full-time Friday-Sunday making deliveries for a piping company while taking classes in Northeast’s nine-month welding program, which meets Mondays-Thursdays, allowing for three-day weekends.
“As I was delivering parts, one of my stops was at Northeast and I would talk with Pat. When I looked around to see what the guys were doing, it got me more interested. At that time, I was thinking about how to get into the welding program because my buddy told me it was a good program to get into. And once you graduate, you could have a good career making good money.”
McCarville worked with Herrera to get him enrolled in a night program in order for him to attend school full-time.
As a first-generation college student in his family, Herrera said others were not convinced he could handle both work and school.
“My dad thought I was ‘insane’ because I already had a full-time job. But I just ignored that and focused on school and did want I wanted to do.”
McCarville said Herrera was an excellent student.
“I knew what his focus was. Juan has the mentality in that he is going to get the most out of what he is doing. He was one of my students who I didn’t have to worry about. He took care of business, whether it was in the classroom or in the shop, he got it done.”
Herrera called his experience of learning the trade at Northeast “awesome.”
“I was having so much fun and I was learning. It almost wasn’t like school … it was like hanging out with your buddies, but learning skills and techniques at the same time.”
Herrera followed in Rohlk’s steps and is now a member of Local 33 which has allowed him to work and travel across the United States with his Northeast diploma and two certificates in his back pocket that certify him to work on unlimited size carbon pipe.
Both Connot and Herrera credit McCarville for their success in the field.
Connot said, “I was able to use the skills I learned in class and I continue to use them out in the field. And, I was learning things out in the field that maybe you don’t necessarily have time to learn in class. I was able to take my skills, go to work, learn new skills and made my welding experience at Northeast as much of a well-rounded experience for me.”
“I definitely recommend the program,” Herrera said. “Pat is a veteran welder with a lot of experience. He knows his stuff. He pushes you to the limit to do better. As long as you want to come in and apply yourself and you want to learn, you can leave here with advanced knowledge in just nine-months.”
McCarville said the program has been set up so when students leave, they have a welding diploma, their OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) card, their certifications, as well as assistance with their cover letters and resumes.
“You know, we are arming them to go to work,” McCarville said.
Herrera quickly added.
“Northeast is arming you to be successful out in the field.”
PHOTO ID: Juan Herrera (left) and Pat McCarville.