Training the next generation of welders

welding SEMMA

What happens when a hairdresser, a plasterer and a store person walk into a bar?  They talk about welding, of course, because that is what they have in common after four weeks of SEMMA Welding Skills training. Each of these people, who had never held a welding gun in their lives, have been snapped up by eager SEMMA members to work in their manufacturing businesses on welding and other production tasks.

SEMMA is delighted to advise that we successfully ran our first of five pilot courses designed to prove our industry-led welding skills short course. The welding skills short course runs for 4 weeks and is intended to allow participants to develop a basic level of welding skills, sufficient to tackle many manufacturing welding tasks.

You can add to our initial 3 trainees, a young man who did some welding during a training exercise with the Scouts and enjoyed it. After ‘graduating’ from our course he was given a one-day work trial with one of our SEMMA members and was subsequently given an offer of employment. This young man was very quiet, and the employer admitted that if he had come for an interview, without having been referred from the program, the company would probably not have employed him. What we have developed is a Win-Win-Win; our manufacturers get skilled employees, the trainee gets a job with a pay packet, and the government no longer provides financial support to a person who initially had limited employment prospects.

One participant, a VCE qualified student who had not had any long-term employment, had worked previously in stores and other casual work. He developed good welding skills during the 4-week course (one of three participants described as ‘naturals’) and went on to join a SEMMA member and has been offered an apprenticeship by the company.

Back in early 2021 in a Manufacturers’ Monthly opinion piece we advised that we had struggled to get funding for our industry-led pilot program. We subsequently successfully secured a contract with the Department of Education Skills and Employment, Local Jobs Program to pay for equipment and training. SEMMA member Hilton Manufacturing in Bangholme Road in South Dandenong very generously provided us with both formal classroom training space and also much needed production floor space for the set up of our training welding bays.  This has enabled us to give participants the feel of working in a production space while learning. 

A very valuable component of the training has been incorporating a welding simulator into the program. We have a very experienced welding engineer who runs prospective students through an exercise on the simulator. This has the benefit of allowing participants to get a feel for wearing a welding helmet and doing a test weld in a safe, fun way while getting a baseline ‘score’ for their attempt. There is a strong, positive correlation between performance with the simulator and subsequent performance with the actual physical MIG welding performed in the welding bays.

welding
SEMMA ran the first of five pilot courses designed to prove its welding skills short course.

Purchase of a welding simulator enabled our contract trainers from Chisholm TAFE to provide feedback to trainees not only on their simulated work pieces but also to reinforce areas for improvement with their ‘on the job’ performance. The simulator can demonstrate the impact on the quality of the weld if the operator uses the wrong speed or angle while welding. 

The intention of our SEMMA Welding Skills Short Course pilot programme is to: 

  1. Enable participants to develop a basic level of MIG welding skills sufficient to be able to work in a production environment. 
  2. Demonstrate that the four-week course can produce ‘job ready’ production welders.
  3. Provide successful ‘graduates’ from the programme with a job with our SEMMA members.

We would like to see our SEMMA industry-led model adopted more broadly to provide a constant supply of skilled employees to our manufacturers, desperate for employees with basic welding skills. 

When SEMMA first proposed this skills course, there was confusion in the broader manufacturing/engineering training community that this was somehow meant to be used in place of full trades training. This is not the case, and we are hopeful that some of our graduates will go on to pursue further study in the art of welding, whether that is through other short courses such as welding to a particular standard or through an apprenticeship. The course was planned to fill an immediate need, recognising the dire shortage of people with welding skills.

One voice of dissent claimed, “Oh yeah – great idea … and we’ll let them weld submarines and aircraft.” Clearly the intention with our course is that we train in basic skills, have people who successfully complete the short course go to employers who recognise the need to support the new employee and provide further training as needed. It would be wonderful in a few years if some of our trainees go on to do more training and become specialised, highly skilled welders. Commonsense dictates that 4 weeks, even for someone with natural ability and good hand-eye co-ordination, will not see them welding safety-critical equipment.

A key feature of our course is the “speed dating” event held in week three, where our trainees meet prospective employers in an informal lunch meeting.  Employers who have taken part in the speed-dating are very enthusiastic and have subsequently employed a number of the trainees. 

Peter Angelico, MD of the Abeck Group, is very happy with his new employee who is producing jig welded parts, freeing up a higher skilled welder to complete more critical work. Peter commented the skills course is “designed to fill an immediate need which enables us to maintain our customer’s confidence” that we can deliver in full and on-time. He went on to say, “there are plenty of full-time positions in manufacturing, we need to bring people in at the bottom end with micro credential courses such as this that are specifically designed to suit what our customers need”. 

If you would like to learn more about the SEMMA welding course, please contact us at info@semma.com.au