New Welding Program Lab Will Help Train Lehigh Valley’s Skilled Workforce
By Kat Schneider on February 10, 2020
The Lehigh Career and Technical Institute (LCTI) unveiled its state-of-the-art $4.25 million welding program lab on Feb. 5 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the North Whitehall Township campus.
The 12,000 square-foot facility, which is nearly twice the size of LCTI’s old program lab, will provide hands-on training for Lehigh Valley’s students and provide a pipeline of talented workers for the region’s employers.
“America still makes things,” Don Cunningham, President and CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “Lehigh Valley hosts companies that make things and there’s great skilled work in manufacturing, welding, and technology in the Lehigh Valley.”
The Lehigh Valley is the 50th largest manufacturing sector in the United States, Cunningham said. Manufacturing accounts for $7.8 billion of the region’s $41.2 billion GDP, and the region is currently home to about 700 manufacturers.
Dubbed the Welding Technology Center, the new LCTI facility offers 40 welding booths and 10 workstations. With 11 more welding booths than the old facility, the new center’s capacity means 50 students can weld simultaneously.
“Our students will now be able to develop skills in what is the premier education facility, not only in Pennsylvania, but we believe across the country,” said Dr. Thomas Rushton, Executive Director at LCTI.
Not all manufacturing jobs include welding, Cunningham said, but the demand for more welders exists. Through retirements and transfers, there will be a need for 275 more welders in the next year.
This gap is also felt industry-wide, with the need for 375,000 additional welders by 2023, Moran said. Facilities like LCTI’s Welding Technology Center make it possible to close the gap.
“This project will be able to deliver welders to our economy at such a high skill level that is critical to the whole ecosystem of the Lehigh Valley,” Cunningham said.
A $50,000 Pennsylvania Department of Education offset the cost of the center, which also offers training with automated welding technologies.
Sean Moran, Director of the American Welding Society’s District 3 office said students who learn on the state-of-the-art equipment are well-suited for the professional world. Not only are they proficient and familiar with all the bells and whistles of the new equipment, but they understand the basics that allow them to be able to work with any equipment an employer has to offer.
Additionally, students who learn on the newer equipment can drive employers to make that leap to upgrade their existing equipment, thus allowing for more output.
“One thing about manufacturers is they want to make welding easier for the welder and make them work smarter, not harder,” Moran said.
Currently, 38% of Lehigh Valley welders are younger than 35. To an extent, the Lehigh Valley is replenishing the skilled workforce, but there is a need for more, especially with a growing number of manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley.
LVEDC is committed to creating and executing regional strategies that help the Lehigh Valley maintain a competitive workforce and talent supply. It does so through the LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council, a partnership of regional educational institutions, major employers, and economic development and workforce agencies.
Among that council’s accomplishments in 2019 were hosing Lehigh Valley’s first-ever internship summit, hosting a new networking event for young professionals, creating a new Lehigh Valley Hot Careers Guide, and gathering workforce data and talent pipeline research from regional educational institutions.
For Jordan Everett, a 4th level welder and senior at Southern Lehigh High School, the LCTI welding program has allowed him to achieve his childhood dream of following in his father’s footsteps as a welder. Upon graduation, Everett will work full-time at Schlosser Steel in Hatfield, Pa., where he is currently working part-time.
“When I learned they had a welding program here, I knew it was perfect for me,” Everett said.
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