Despite their young age, soon-to-be high school grads are confronted with potentially the biggest decision they’ll ever have to make: what direction to take after they’re handed their diplomas. They have a lot of options, including college, the military or an entry-level job.
Another option available is a trade school with careers that range from food service to auto repair to computer programming.
For some, the number of options can be daunting. However, the choice might be made easier by weighing a potential career’s salary with the ease of landing a job.
According to PayScale, a company that uses special algorithms to assess the compensation for hundreds if not thousands of job titles, the average welder brings in more than $35,000 a year. Give that welder an American Welding Society (AWS) certification, though, and the income jumps to $45,000. Add in the fact that welders are in high demand and you have a career that’s not only lucrative, but also incredibly stable.
So how does one land a welding job that offers a good wage and a solid sense of job security? There are a few ways to go about it, but the most sensible one is to find an accredited vocational school and enroll.
In Illinois, only five schools are accredited by both the AWS and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, a nonprofit agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. One of them is the ETI School of Skilled Trades, located in Willowbrook, Ill., which offers courses in skilled welding and HVAC/R.
Students typically graduate from ETI’s program within seven to 12 months, clocking in 265 hours in the classroom and 641 hours in a 12,000-sq.-ft. hands-on lab. The program is broken into four levels that span the entire spectrum of welding fundamentals. Level one focuses on oxyfuel and plasma cutting, level two focuses on stick welding, and levels three and four focus on MIG and TIG, respectively.
Classroom hours include instruction in safety and procedural specifications, reading and understanding of welding drawings, and explanations of associated welding vocabulary and terminology. Lab hours include learning how to properly set up equipment and how to prepare material for welding and cutting. It also includes the techniques and methods behind the full gamut of welding processes.
“Students learn everything they’ll need to be marketable in the workforce,” says Michelle Scheldberg, director of admissions and marketing at ETI. “They learn all of the different welding positions they’ll use in the field and get the chance to practice on a variety of materials, from aluminum to steel and in various thicknesses.”
In less than a year, graduates gain a well-rounded foundation – one that makes them incredibly desirable for employers. Scheldberg gets a smile on her face every time she’s asked about ETI’s program.
“Welding is a very rewarding career,” she says. “Our graduates have worked on some pretty cool projects, like at McCormick Place and Cellular Field, but it goes beyond the Chicagoland area. One of our graduates sent us pictures of himself welding on the Golden Gate Bridge.”
The student demographics at ETI also go beyond the expected. Students come to ETI straight out of high school, but ETI’s classrooms and labs are also full of adults looking to change careers, retired military men and women, and 20 somethings frustrated with the traditional four-year college path they’d been on.
During a recent visit to ETI’s campus, instructors and students alike were producing a series of videos to illustrate some of the proper oxyfuel techniques taught at ETI. It was clear to see that the students were gaining valuable skills while also enjoying the experience of getting in front of a camera.
During the video shoot, ETI students Austin Morel and Dewaun Stephens, ETI oxyfuel instructor Aaron Styles and ESAB product line manager John Henderson laid out a few key tips for oxyfuel operations. Those tips, however, just scratch the surface of the learning opportunities available at ETI.
As exemplified in the following photo gallery, the range of information presented to students at ETI is wide and comprehensive. The day’s taping included a nice sampling of what students can expect to learn during level one of the ETI four-part program: Introduction to Welding.
Life is a classroom
In 1977, the founders of the Chicagoland area’s largest HVAC/R contracting company decided to take recruitment and training into their own hands. With a goal to produce more skilled technicians, they opened the doors to ETI. Shortly thereafter, the school received approval from the Illinois State Board of Education. Several years later, the school expanded beyond HVAC/R training and launched its welding program. The AWS followed with the accredited testing facility distinction.
The founders knew that accreditation would be key for a variety of reasons, including the ability to offer Title IV funding to those who qualify and giving the school the ability to work with military students. They also quickly took into consideration the needs of their students, offering day and night classes.
After graduating from ETI, students don’t just walk off into the sunset. It’s quite typical, in fact, for graduates to continue taking advantage of the school. As an AWS accredited testing facility, graduates can come back at any point in their careers to get additional certifications for a reduced fee. Currently, ETI offers testing for 38 certifications, and with a certified welding inspector on site, that number can easily grow if an alumnus needs a certification in a specific process.
“The biggest benefit for our students is that ETI is their forever classroom,” Scheldberg says. “They can come back and refresh, retrain or practice at any time they want.”
Truly, the opportunities that are afforded through the ETI program are unparalleled. Not only can students land a good paying career, but they can also live the life that the American Dream promises.
“Our students want the white picket fence,” Scheldberg says. “They want to be able to travel and have financial freedom. And these professions give them the ability to do that. They’re making incredible money and they’re moving forward in life. The skills that we’re teaching them open so many doors and give them career options that they didn’t have before. Watching these students graduate with confidence in themselves is incredibly rewarding.”