Working with metal is a rewarding, challenging career with lots of job prospects. For the past decade, Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Welding Program has been preparing students for well-paying jobs in this field.
“You’ll never be without a job if you want one,” says Mike Hallam, Chair of VIU’s Welding program. “It’s a rewarding, challenging, interesting career. There’s a lot of troubleshooting, co-operation between fellow trades and teamwork.”
VIU offers several levels of training at its three campuses – Nanaimo, Cowichan and Powell River. Last year, more than 200 students went through the University’s Welding programs.
The Foundation course is a 28-week introductory program that prepares students for employment in the industry. Attached to the Foundation program is a unique, 12-week Welder Fitter program that teaches students to lay out and fit structural steel, plate and sheet fabrication, working from blueprints or shop drawings.
“We added in this option as employers in our region requested it,” says Hallam. “They let us know they wanted skilled trades people who knew not only how to weld, but also how to fit.”
The University also offers the more advanced Level B training at both the Nanaimo and Cowichan campuses. Students who complete Level B must write an inter-provincial exam to become certified journeyman welders. Level A training – working with specialty metals – is offered when there is demand. Apprenticeship training and Canadian Welding Bureau testing and pipe testing can also be done at VIU.
As for job prospects, after completing the Foundation program, students can move right into construction, repair and fabrication work.
“Most of our graduates are working in either a fabrication shop, doing repair work, building bridges or rebuilding logging equipment,” says Hallam. “There’s a fair bit of work out there.”
One thing Hallam tells his students is that you don’t have to be the best; employers are looking for reliability above all else.
“You have to have a good attitude and you have to be there,” he says. “Employers are confident that they can train students to be better welders on the job, so what they’re looking for from the start is the students who show up on time every day.”
First-year welders start at $14-25/hour, and the wage scale goes up into the mid-30s once students get their journeyman tickets. With the baby boomers retiring, now is a good time to enter the trade, says Hallam. He’s been visiting schools on Vancouver Island to talk to students about welding careers, giving secondary school teachers learning resources and helping them secure donations of equipment.
VIU also runs Mind Over Metal summer welding camps for youth aged 12-15, funded by the Canadian Welding Association. The first camp ran last summer, and this year, the Cowichan Campus will offer two one-week programs in June and August. “I still talk to about half of last year’s class, and they are telling me they want to take welding when they get to Grade 11,” says Hallam.