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Bethlehem Vo-Tech Says New Welding Lab Will Help Meet Growing Labor Demands

By Colin McEvoy on August 31, 2018

Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School student Nick Carr preparing the cut the steel ribbon at the welding lab grand opening.

Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School student Nick Carr preparing the cut the steel ribbon at the welding lab grand opening.

Not too many ribbon-cuttings require the use of a gas torch to get through the ribbon.

The Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School (BAVTS) unveiled their new welding lab on Aug. 30, presenting a state-of-the-art training facility will allow the school to meet the growing labor market demands of the 21st century.

But instead of cutting a traditional ribbon, two of its students marked the occasion by using some the facility’s new equipment to cut through a rectangular metal sheet with the words “WELD BAVTS” printed on them.

“Our new lab will allow us to enroll more students in the program than we were able to in the past, and (will) allow us to help support local employers as they navigate the challenges of a skilled labor shortage,” BAVTS Executive Director Adam Lazarchak said to a crowd of more than 100 people at the ribbon-cutting.

The new welding lab was created due to increased enrollment, to increase the technological aspects of the school, and to better suit the needs of the labor market. According to the American Welding Society, there will be a shortage of 400,000 operators by the year 2024.

In the Lehigh Valley, it is projected there will be a demand for 390 welders over the next five years as a result of retirements, career changes, or new positions, according to Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).

The interior of the new Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School welding lab.

The interior of the new Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School welding lab.

“Today’s rapidly evolving world of innovation and technological development is creating a demand for new vocational and technical skills,” Cunningham said. “We are fortunate to have fantastic vocational and technical schools in the Lehigh Valley who are helping prepare our students with the skills that local employers need within the technical trades.”

Expanded to an area within a 45-minute drive of the Lehigh Valley, the demand for welders rises to 670, Cunningham said. There are currently 720 welders in the Lehigh Valley, with 390 in Lehigh County and 330 in Northampton County.

BAVTS had only 16 welding booths available in its old lab, which dated back to the 1960s, limiting the school to an enrollment of 36 students each year. The new lab will allow for the enrollment of up to 25 students per session, for a maximum of 50 each year.

The new lab will take the place of a former classroom that was underused. Lazarchak said the new welding lab’s cost was about one-third less than if the previous BAVTS lab had been renovated, or than if a new shop had been added to the school building altogether.

“We couldn’t have done any of this without guidance from our industry partners and support from three sending districts, which include the Bethlehem, Northampton, and Saucon Valley school districts,” Lazarchak said.

The new welding lab has more welding booths, a larger classroom space, brighter lights, and an updated tubing system for removing smoke and dust from the room, according to Dakota Budnik, BATVS welding instructor. It also has a separate grinding room, whereas the grinding of welds in the previous space was done in the middle of the shop.

The average hourly wage for welders in the Lehigh Valley is $21.84, which is slightly higher than the state average of $20.63 per hour. Pennsylvania ranks fourth among the 50 states for the number of welders employed (15,320), with only California, Texas, and Ohio having a greater number.

Employment data like this was among the information presented in LVEDC’s recently-unveiled Lehigh Valley talent supply study. LVEDC collaborates with Lehigh Valley employers and schools in an ongoing initiative to identify talent supply and demand issues in the region and create a strategy that results in a broader, ongoing understanding of the regional workforce.

The top hiring industries for welders in the Lehigh Valley are architectural and structural metals manufacturing, machinery manufacturing, fabricated metal product manufacturing, employment services, and machine shops, according to George Lewis, LVEDC Director of Research and Analysis.

The BAVTS ribbon-cutting was attended by state Sen. Mario Scavello, state Reps. Marcia Hahn and Steve Samuelson, and representatives of the offices of state Sen. Lisa Boscola and state Rep. Jeanne McNeill. They presented Lazarchak with formal recognitions from the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives.

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