West Delaware High School launches welding apprenticeship program

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MANCHESTER, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- West Delaware High School started a welding apprenticeship program that will allow juniors and seniors to earn a welding certificate while making money.

West Delaware High School students work behind the red curtains of the welding booths on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (Allison Wong, KCRG-TV9)

At the end of the month, seven students will interview with three local companies: Henderson Products, Paladin Attachments and XL Specialized Trailers. If accepted, those students will put in 450 hours with their welding instructor Seth Harms at the high school. They'll also gain up to 2,000 hours of experience working at one of the companies.

West Delaware County Community School District Superintendent Kristen Rickey said, "the apprentices have to be hired by an employer, they have to become actual employees. It’s an expectation for them they will participate in the learning at school and that they will work 20 hours a week on average during the school year as well as 40 hours a week in the summer time."

While most students pay to earn a degree or certificate, these students will be making money.

"They’ll make upwards around $30,000 in the two years times while they’re there," Harms said.

The program is set up to take two years, but students can get their certificate sooner if they're meeting requirements at a faster pace. If students start the program their senior year, Rickey said the school will still allow them to be in it past graduation.

West Delaware High School senior Bo Juran applied for the program and is waiting to do interviews. He applied to test out welding as a career.

"Being a factory worker I know I can make good money and it just seems kind of fun to me," Juran said.

He also sees it as an opportunity to rule something out if he doesn't like it. "I hope that everything goes well but if it doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out," he said.

The district began to develop the program at the end of last school year. Rickey said the Iowa Department of Labor, the Governor's office, Future Ready Iowa, local companies and more all helped.

"We had already had a strong partnership with our businesses and industry in town, but this takes that partnership to another level," she said.

Harms thinks this is a great program because it's not only helping his students, but also helping local companies that need to fill job openings.

"You’ve got three companies fighting for the same individuals and each company can have anywhere from five to 10, you know, job openings for welders," Harms said. "We need to find a way to fill.”

He looks forward to seeing how the year goes.

"I think this year it’s going to be a very important year to really roll this out strong so we can have a solid foundation," Harms said.

Rickey said she's seeing the enthusiasm in the students as well.

"They’re so excited to get involved in something that they really want to do for their future," said Rickey.

Juran said, "I think it’s amazing. I hope that it honestly works out for years to come.”