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Sparking a career in welding

Kalib Taylor from Butte County, works on an assignment in the booth during a summer welding program Monday at CSI in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — As a high school senior, Kalib Taylor wasn’t sure what he wanted to do or where he’d go to college.

His welding teacher at Butte County High School in Arco encouraged him to look into a new College of Southern Idaho summer welding program. His reaction: “Well, that sounds awesome.”

After thinking about it, Taylor took tests and was accepted into the program. On the morning of June 11, he and his classmates were working on projects in a welding lab in CSI’s Desert Building.

Once the 18-year-old finishes up at CSI and earns his certification as a welder, his dream job is to work in a fabrication shop, but he’s keeping his options open.

“I’ll see where the money takes me, I guess,” he said.

Taylor is among seven recent high school graduates who are enrolled in an eight-week “Welding Summer Bridge” pilot program at CSI. Created by Idaho Career & Technical Education, it accommodates 14 students between the CSI and College of Western Idaho campuses. Classes kicked off June 4.

The program allows students to take welding credits they earned in high school and combine them with credits they’ll earn this summer to essentially wrap up their first year of college. They’ll continue at CSI in the fall.

The state covers all costs for students during the summer program, including their dorm stay, books, tuition and tools.

The program’s aim is to help get more students into career and technical education programs like welding and finish faster to address a skills gap in the workforce.

“There’s so much need for welders right now,” CSI welding instructor Clay Wilkie said. “It’s not even funny.”

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Sparking a career in welding

Instructor Clay Wilkie talks about how it takes a lot more than just welding to become a great welder Monday at CSI in Twin Falls.

When Wilkie recently talked with a welding shop in Mini-Cassia — a member of the college program’s advisory board — they told him they pay $75 per diem to local welders for every day they work in addition to their regular pay “just to keep them so they don’t go somewhere else,” he said.

They have 12 welders who’ve gone through CSI’s program, Wilkie said, but need more like 50.

The summer welding program, he said, is one step toward addressing the shortage of welders. “It’s a Band-Aid,” he said. “We’re trying.”

The average age of welders in the United States is 58, Wilkie said, and with more retirements on the horizon in all trades — not just welding — that leaves a big skills gap.

Something that’s compounding the challenge: American parents tend to push their children toward jobs such as becoming a doctor or attorney, he said, rather than trades. But welders “make amazing money,” he added.

Median pay for welders in 2017 was $40,240 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of jobs from 2016-26 is expected to increase by 6 percent.

Students in CSI’s summer welding program are the cream of the crop, Wilkie said. In total, 10 took theory and hands-on tests seeking admission and seven passed.

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Sparking a career in welding

Eddie Blanch, from Idaho Falls, checks on his assignments during a summer welding program Monday at CSI in Twin Falls.

All of the students went through three years of high school welding and earned state badges to demonstrate they’ve mastered certain skills. They hail from Idaho Falls, Butte County and Blackfoot, but none are from the Magic Valley.

Idaho is home to only 12 high school welding programs — including Twin Falls High School, and the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind in Gooding — that align with the type of welding CSI teaches, Wilkie said. That’s different from agricultural welding, encompassing about 98 percent of high school welding programs here in the Gem State, he said.

Blackfoot High School graduate Keegan Blackburn, 18, already had welding job offers before starting in CSI’s summer program, but is pursuing more education.

“I’ve always enjoyed welding and it provides a lot of opportunities for me, at least,” he said.

Blackburn has been learning about welding theory and hands-on skills through the summer program. With the cost of participating covered, it’s stress-free, he said. “You don’t have to worry about any money.”

So far this summer, students spend about an hour in the classroom each morning and the rest of the day in the welding shop applying what they’ve learned. “It’s been really fast-paced,” Taylor said.

The welding program isn’t the only CSI offering this summer for recent high school graduates. The college is offering its “Bridge to Success” program for a third year. It helps first-time, degree-seeking students get started with their college education and works with them until they graduate.

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