Lehigh Career & Technical Institute Breaks Ground on New Welding Lab
By Colin McEvoy on March 15, 2019
The Lehigh Career & Technical Institute (LCTI) celebrated the groundbreaking of a new welding lab this week, a project officials say will provide hands-on training for the Lehigh Valley’s students and provide a pipeline of talented workers for the region’s employers.
“Our mission is workforce development,” LCTI Executive Director Thomas J. Rushton said on March 14 to a crowd of more than 100 people at the North Whitehall Township campus. “LCTI’s new welding lab will allow us to provide our students with the most advanced training in an optimal environment that will serve the Lehigh Valley for many years to come.”
At 12,000 square feet, the new space will be twice the size of LCTI’s current program lab, and provide room for one of the school’s most popular programs to grow, he said. It is expected to begin welcoming students in the fall of 2020.
It will have 40 welding booths – 11 more than LCTI’s current program lab – and 10 workstations that will allow 50 students to weld simultaneously. The lab will allow LCTI to serve more students and evolve its program to include training with automated welding technologies, Rushton said.
“Welders build the world we live in,” he said. “From cars to high rise office buildings, airplanes to rockets, pipelines to highways, none of it would be possible without welding. Driven by requirements, infrastructure needs, and advancing technologies, demand for this trade is high and will remain that way in the future.
A $4.25 million investment, the new facility is the culmination of more than two years of planning and design, first conceived after a tour of the existing lab and discussion with faculty about their existing space and future needs, Rushton said.
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.
“Today’s rapidly evolving world of innovation and technological development is creating a demand for new vocational and technical skills,” said Karianne Gelinas, LVEDC Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Research, who was recognized at LCTI’s groundbreaking event.
“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,” Gelinas said.
Expanded to an area within a 45-minute drive of the Lehigh Valley, the demand for welders rises to 670, Gelinas said. There are currently 720 welders in the Lehigh Valley, with 390 in Lehigh County and 330 in Northampton County.
Other schools in the region have expanded their welding programs in recent years as well. The Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School unveiled a new welding lab in August in response to increased enrollment and the demands of the labor market.
LCTI is Pennsylvania’s largest career and technical school, offering more than 45 skills-based programs of study and academic instruction for about 2,700 students from grades 9 to 12 from Lehigh County’s nine public school districts, as well The facility also offers industry-relevant training and credentials for working adults.
Eileen Cipriani, Deputy Secretary for Workforce Development at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, was among the speakers at the groundbreaking. She praised the new lab as in keeping with Gov. Tom Wolf’s investments in job training and education initiatives.
“Pennsylvania’s economic future depends on a well-educated and highly-trained workforce,” Cipriani said. “The expansion of LCTI’s welding program will give students hands-on training for a creer or to continue their education.”
Cipriani highlighted Wolf’s Statewide Workforce, Education, and Accountability Program, which she said expands early childhood education, increases investments in schools, and partners with the private sector to build on the PAsmart workforce development initiative.
She also highlighted the governor’s Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center, which expands the collaboration between government and the private sector to address the skills gap and worker shortages.
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