Nick Lannan looks over his certificate of completion at Wednesday's graduation event.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Certificates of completion were awarded Wednesday to the dedicated graduates of McCann Technical School's evening welding course, part of a workforce development program to train for manufacturing skills.
"This is a compressed course. You went through a lot of material in a very short period of time," metal fabrication instructor John Kline said. "You know how far you've come in the short seven weeks we had here. ...
"I hope you got a lot of out of it, and not just the hands-on welding but what you learned in the classroom as well. You not only learned how, you learned why. And you need both."
Kline said the participants were really pushed to take in as much as possible in the short time period. It included at least an hour of classroom learning and two hours of practice skills four days a week for about 85 hours of course time. Some of them did it while working other jobs and some came from as far as Otis and New Marlborough.
"You never missed a beat, always getting in here no matter what the weather was and getting the job done quickly," Superintendent James Brosnan said. "You should be very, very proud."
Receiving certificates of completion were Anton Chaisson-Boucher, Ryan Horn, Jacob Hotson, Brian Jowett, Collin Kline, Nick Lannan, Richard LaRose, Andrew Lee, John Lescarbeau, Joe Russel and Charlton Spell.
The welding course was one of six in the Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Technical Training Program that graduated 84 people this round in programs ranging from waste water to paper and pulp.
Eleven men ranging in age from 25 to 45 who fit into the criteria of being unemployed or underemployed were able to attend. They received hands-on training in shielded metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding and blueprint reading, and also got a chance to try out other skills available in the McCann workshop.
The programs were made possible through a $138,000 manufacturing workforce development grant through the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, an extension of last year's grant.
"It's incredibly important to workforce development because we have a lot of empty positions," said Sara Milano of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. "Welding crosses a lot of different lines but it's designed to be part of the manufacturing grant because there's a lot of people moving out, or aging out or retiring and we're looking to get people into those entry level positions."
A 2012 state report on the manufacturing sector finds that more than 40 percent of firms had trouble finding skilled workers and that with the average age of workers at more than 40 years, a minimum of 50,000 retirements are expected by 2022.
Glen Andrews, also a metal fab instructor, said, "That's why this program works really well. ... It makes them more well rounded."
Kline agreed, noting a couple of the participants were getting the training for their current jobs. The certifications can lead to new jobs or promotions or raises at current jobs.
"Somebody might not go out and find a job strictly as a welder but if they've got welding experience and they're find a job as a maintenance person, that's going to give them a leg up," he said.
Nick Lannan saw the advertisement for the course online and decided to sign up, thinking to find a new career to support his family and a way out of the retail work he'd been doing.
"I see a future in this ... It's a good job. It's much more worth than basic retail or food service ... at the end of the day you actually feel like you've done something," he said.
"I loved it. Besides, of course, the adrenaline kicking in when the sparking are flying at you, the most enjoyable part is the fact that the instructors know what they're talking about and they like to help everyone," Lannan said. "No matter what question, they have the answer or they try to help you find it. They actually physically show you how to weld, they don't leave you to learn on your own."
He's not sure where he'll end up working but plans to get some more certifications to further his abilities.
"I figure if I can walk in with all these certifications, there's no job that I can't get," Lannan said.
The class was encouraged to keep in touch with the program leaders and each other. Milano said it was critical the keep her informed of when they get jobs so BRCEB can show how the program is successful.
"We got a really strong group. If they want to work I think we can help them find employment," said Milano who presented the certificates and a $50 gift card funded by the grant to help the new graduates with equipment, clothing or gas for the new careers.
Kline and Andrews also noted that they work closely with contractors and often find spots for their high school graduates. "That's what we try to do ... we make people employable," said Andrews.
But Brosnan said perhaps the best networking was for the graduates to think of themselves as a team.
"Stay in touch with Sara ... stay in touch with each other," he told them. "If you're going to a job and they're looking for another person, give your classmate a call. Take care of each other."
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