Sparking interest on the Owens Community College campus in Perrysburg Township: the unveiling of a new $1.1 million welding center.
The state-of-the-art educational center, which previously held Penta Career Center's welding and automotive collision repair labs, features the latest in technological and academic resources specific to welding for several degree and certificate programs.
It also expands opportunities for people interested in getting certificates or degrees in welding.
Nationally, there is a demand for welders, noted Renay Scott, executive vice president and provost at Owens. "There is a need for about 400,000 welders to replace current workers or to meet the new demand," she said.
At Owens, a number of students snag jobs before they finish their degrees. Firms in Bowling Green, Fremont, North Baltimore, Toledo, and other locations in the region are filling welding jobs in industrial and construction fields, she said.
There's been a waiting list for students to take welding courses at Owens, and because of the intense demand, the college was asked to run courses at 7 a.m. and until 10 or 11 at night.
James Gilmore, Owens' chairman of manufacturing and industrial operations, had high praises for the new and improved welding facility.
"We love it. It's fantastic. It meets or exceeds every one of our expectations. It's giving us a substantial amount of additional space. The facility is very high quality, in comparison with what we worked with before, and it is a facility that will help us grow," Mr. Gilmore said.
The new center "essentially tripled the size of our program. We can educate three times the students," Mr. Gilmore said, noting the number of booths jumped from 24 to 72.
In the last couple years, the number of students interested in learning welding skills at Owens has surged by 20 to 30 percent, Mr. Gilmore said.
Owens' Welding Center is utilized by students pursuing associate's degrees in welding and by those enrolled in welding certificate programs.
The college has been averaging 60 students in the certificate program over the last three years, Ms. Scott said, and the new lab "allows us to triple the number."
The two-year welding degree program averages about 100 students registering each fall, and that number is expected to increase, Ms. Scott said.
Mr. Gilmore added, "We have been at capacity. To meet demands, we had to expand to provide additional space and to accommodate the opportunities that exist out there."
Those opportunities are linked in large part to the number of welders at or near retirement age.
"There has been a very large push over the last three years to stave off the retirements because there is a huge need now out there for welders," Mr. Gilmore said.
Bridges are being repaired or new bridges built. Water systems are getting upgrades. Refineries are retrofitting. Opportunities exist for welders in the nuclear industry, oil industry, and at biofuel facilities as well, he said.
The focus for welders tends to be on construction in northwest Ohio, Mr. Gilmore said. "If that's all we're looking at, [the job market] looks average. If you look outside the area, what is going on throughout the state, in neighboring states, across the country, and over the border into Canada, students are getting jobs."
Locally, unions for pipe fitters, boilermakers, and ironworkers almost continuously are seeking apprentices with welding skills, Mr. Gilmore said.
Pay ranges vary, depending on the skill set, the industry, and what part of the country the need is, he said, but he's seeing $13 to $15 as entry wage for welders with no experience, and at the other end, $40 an hour for welders in New York.
Situated south of Founders and Heritage halls, the center is part of the college's ongoing campus expansion initiative on the new south campus, former home to Penta Career Center.
The newly renovated 14,512 square-foot educational facility features two instructional classrooms and two experiential learning classroom areas for instruction and hands-on learning. The complex includes three offices, a locker room area, and men's and women's restroom facilities.
The experiential learning classrooms house 60 welding booths, 12 cutting booths, and 8 grinding stations all with leading-edge technology for students to receive hands-on training specific to various welding processes.
Thirty-six booths have the capability of utilizing argon and carbon dioxide for welding purposes, while oxygen and acetylene are featured in 12 cutting booths.