Colter France, of Crowfoot, N.D., moved to Garden City this fall to attend the welding program at Garden City Community College. France is one of 24 students in the one-year, full-time Monday through Thursday intensive course.
“We treat it like a job,” said Devin Wackerla, a welding instructor at GCCC. “They are held accountable for punctuality and attendance.”
Wackerla, Kurt Wenzel and Norman Wyatt run the program, which usually has a waiting list. Last year, 15 students were on the list. In addition to the weekday classes, the instructors offer training to area businesses to help their welders get certified. They are hoping at some point to expand the full-time program by either offering full-time evening courses or appropriating more space.
All the instructors have worked in the field and are certified welding inspectors. They said companies are coming to them asking for students to hire.
“We get contacts frequently. It’s hard not to get a job after they leave here,” Wackerla said. “We have several students that started their own business.”
Students learn at their own pace. Each one obtains different certificates, depending upon their mastery of the subject.
“We are very strict on our quality standards,” Wackerla said. “It’s either black or white. There are no gray areas.”
Students learn boiler and pressure vessel code, pipeline code, structural steel code and many other codes. How many certificates each student earns or how fast they master a subject is up to them.
“We focus on getting our students ready for the industry,” Wenzel said. “Everything we teach in here we will show them ourselves. We are pretty versatile.”
Along with learning layout, pipefitting, math and blueprint skills, students are also taught safety.
“You don’t want to push them,” Wyatt said.
Although students are shown skills as a group, they also receive individual attention.
“We come down to everyone’s level, so they know what they are doing,” Wackerla said. “We teach in depth.”
Along with the full-time community college students and industrial students, this year, the three instructors started teaching concurrent welding courses at Garden City, Dighton, Lakin, Scott Community and Holcomb high schools. They also offer a course at Deerfield High School. Wichita County High School offers its own welding course.
“They get an early start on a certificate,” Wackerla said. “We try to form a relationship with these area high schools.”
Colten Dacus grew up on a ranch in Garden City and attended Garden City High School. He hopes to receive his associate degree in welding in the spring of 2021. This academic year, he is focusing on welding. Next year will be filled with English, math and science courses.
“You learn a lot in this program. It’s fun to be around,” Dacus said. “I want to be a traveling welder.”
Registration opens on April 30 and classes usually are full by mid-May.