Assignment: Education – High school welding program

Sparta School District offers students a free college diploma while attending high school.

Hot sparks rain down behind the plastic orange curtains in place to protect passersby.This precise profession is a craft which some say is an art form.

“I’ve always loved welding,” said Brett Becker, Sparta High School senior.

For Becker, his passion for the career was sparked early-on in his childhood, and one he knew he wanted to pursue.

“When I found out it was a program we could be in this year, I was like I’ve got to sign up,” said Becker.

Becker is taking part in the district’s new Embedded Welding Technical Diploma program offered this year.

“What this program is is it prepares seniors to not only finish high school, but to complete a welding certificate concurrently with finishing their high school diploma,” said Elizabeth Dostal, the director of instruction for the Sparta School District. “So when they graduate from high school they have both the high school diploma and a 13 credit welding certificate issued by Western Technical College.”

With the certificate in hand, these students may be able to find a job in this high demand industry right out of high school.

“Welding is one of the hot jobs in Wisconsin,” said Dostal. “There’s a lot of pending retirements in the field. So, they’re going to have to have replacements for those people who are leaving the manufacturing field, and there is just growing demand in the industry.               

Fifteen Sparta High school students were accepted into the program in the spring and began taking classes toward their diploma this summer.

“They had to commit to going to 4 1/2 hours of instruction, summer school, this summer to be in the program,” said Dostal.

Now that the school year is in full swing, they’re back in their newly renovated welding lab learning the particulars of the profession.

“I usually lecture for a little bit and show them what I’m looking for for the day,” said Joe Hanratty, Sparta High School welding instructor. “If there is anything that I think they need to work on, we usually hit that right away. And then I get them in the shop and give them hands on training so they can understand what we’re looking for, and how to get it.”

The lessons delivered by Mr. Hanratty come from a very important partnership.

“It’s Western curriculum 100 percent,” said Josh Gamer, the dean of the integrated technology division at Western Technical College. “But the unique thing is that it’s being delivered by their high school instructors at the high school during the student’s schedule which is really most convenient for them.”

And with almost 370,000 welding jobs available in the United States according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a wait list of students hoping to get into Western’s core welding program on campus, finding an alternate place to train workers in this high demand field is a win-win.

“So when you look at the job demand five years from now, with all of the retirement that will take place, to meet those numbers, to get those students qualified for those positions, we have to do things differently than we’ve done in the past,” said Gamer. “This is a really unique way to make that happen.”

For Brett, the high school program also a fast and free way to pursue his passion.

“It’s one of those things where my parents told me I had to deal with all the college stuff on my own if I wanted to go,” said Becker. “That was one of the things that I was going to struggle with. I was going to push through, but now that I got this. I still may go back to college to further the degree, but I mean, now, being able to start with a job right after I graduate from high school is going to be an awesome feeling.”