Focus on Brant: welding program builds skills and confidence

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They are ready to prove their metal talent.

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Approximately 80 people have graduated from a special welding program run by the Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie to meet local needs and help maintain economic growth and stability in the region.

“Our research tells us that welding is the most in-demand trade in Grand Erie and across the province,” says General Manager Danette Dalton. “We also know that welding is a stepping stone into the skilled trades, so a lot of people start out welding and then move on to other fields like electrical, plumbing or construction.”

But welding has its own advantages, as well as high demand. Local welders earn around $45,000 a year, and those with more experience or specialties can earn significantly more. Thus, the Skills2Advance program aims to introduce 150 women and men to the trade, with funding that includes funds from the federal and provincial governments.

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“We definitely try to target people who are looking for new opportunities but may not have the wherewithal to take them. A lot of kids and new parents have a lot of responsibilities that they’re trying to balance and this program is designed to give them a helping hand,” says Dalton.

The free two-week, 60-hour course includes 30 hours of welding training based on a Canadian Welding Bureau curriculum, with an additional 30 hours of instruction in other areas like first aid, health and safety certification and operation of a forklift.

Other topics covered include financial literacy, psychological first aid and wellness.

“All of these certifications offer certifications,” says Dalton, “and are really handy things people can add to their resumes. They meet the needs of local employers and are highly transferable across industries, whether it’s warehousing, manufacturing, or even agriculture.

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There are two streams, Women of Steel, and an identical blended course called Mind Over Metal. The overall gender split is 60% male and 40% female, but the planning council wants to send the message that women are welcome.

Dalton says, “We are alleviating fears that they might come into the industry and actually do the job. Many of these women have never been in a store, have not grown up with a mentor in the trades, and have not been exposed to this sort of thing.

“But in the program, they come together, support each other, and go out into the world with a lot more confidence, not just in the craft, but in themselves.”

Participants range from young people to people in their 50s and 60s who want to improve their skills. Education levels range from less than a high school diploma to those with college degrees. In the course, there is a lot of information to help people finish high school or move on to other post-secondary programs.

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Training is provided by four area colleges: Six Nations Polytechnic in Brantford, Fanshawe in Simcoe, Conestoga in Cambridge and Brantford, and Mohawk in Hamilton. It is open to newcomers to welding, anyone looking to change careers, and workers who have a job with employers who want them to upgrade their skills.

“We find that people are so excited about what they’re learning that they’re enrolling in other college programs,” says Dalton. And there’s follow-up for a year after the course, to make sure graduates get the support they need.

Assistance during and after training can include safety boots and work clothes, transportation, and even groceries for those in need.

Although the planning council is still crunching the numbers, Dalton estimates that at least half of the 80 graduates to date have found employment, returned to their employers or are well positioned to find employment.

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“Our whole community thrives when every individual has a living wage and a good quality of life,” says Dalton. “That’s the ultimate goal, because the cost of living is extraordinary and programs like this are ideal for supporting industry and workers.

“We can’t attract more investment or even retain it unless we have a strong workforce. So it only makes sense to provide programming like this, and without our incredibly supportive partners, none of this would happen.

Current funding is in place to train around 150 people and the planning board hopes the program will be extended because when it comes to improving the local workforce, welding is the way to go.

“It’s really amazing to see so many people come out of the program so happy,” says Dalton, “and that makes me happy. That’s all I need, really.

Note: This article was part of the special Focus on Brant section published in the Brantford Expositor

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