Ten students in the community education welding class were certified in 3G and 4G welding on Friday.
Cathy Cook | El Defensor Chieftain photos

The buzz of MIG welding sounds like frying bacon, and Socorro High School welding teacher Kenny Gonzales is training his students to tell if their weld is going wrong just by the sound.

The community education welding course offers students the skills and certifications they need to step into the workforce directly out of high school.

Ten of Gonzales’s students, which include high school students and community members enrolled in the community education welding course, were certified in vertical groove welding and overhead groove welding Friday.

Some of the students are high schoolers who are only in their second semester of welding. But there are adult students too, including a welder from Cuba, who is establishing residency and has passed both his certification tests. That will help him find a job once he gets his work permit.

The classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights, plus four-hour sessions Friday mornings, are a collaboration between Socorro High School and the New Mexico Tech Community Education program. The welding program at Socorro High School has been around for decades, but the collaboration with Tech kicks the program up a notch by offering classes to the community and opportunities for professional certification.

There were 25 in the first semester the course was offered. The second semester the course grew, with 37 students enrolled.

The program aims to build the local workforce of certified welders, who can go on to work for New Mexico Tech, EMRTEC, White Sands Missile Range, Sandia Labs, Los Alamos Labs, or even open their own business.

“We look at Los Lunas, they have Facebook, they have Amazon. Those companies have come and looked at our industrial park, but then they come and look at the employment that’s here and the skilled labor that’s not here,” said Gonzales.

The program also partners with businesses, like Bauman Industrial Labs, a welding inspecting company from Albuquerque that’s certifying the students for only $100. Normally the certifications came at $400 apiece, an $800 price tag. The company owners are also signing the kids up for the American Welding Society and paying for their first year of membership.

The welding students visit Central New Mexico Community college, where they could go on to get a certificate in three semesters or an associate degree in welding in four semesters. They also visit the Iron Workers Union, which provides welders with schooling and jobs.

For their test, students created grooves in a plate,
leaving a quarter-inch gap, then welded them out.

Too Many Skills to Count

High school senior Lucas Ward has learned too many skills to count in the class—stick welding, MIG welding and TIG welding. Not to mention how to use the torches and power tools involved in welding.

“Originally, I started taking this in my second semester of my junior year. I just felt like welding was a skill that people should know, and I should know it too. But as time progressed, I got really into it, and now I’m going to go to CNM for welding,” said Ward.

He’s spent much of this semester using his welding skills to work on his truck.

“It’s just something that I can focus on a lot more easily than actual schoolwork,” said Ward. “It’s not abstract in any way. I can just do it and know what I’m doing wrong and know what I’m doing right and just be done with it.”

Brothers Andrew and Phillip Lopez both enjoy being under the hood. The pair are approaching their final semester in high school, and Phillip plans to put his welding skills to work as a combat engineer in the Marine Corps—something he’s wanted to do since he was a little kid.

Andrew’s not sure yet what life after high school will look like, but he’d encourage other students to take on the welding class.

The worst part of the class, according to the Lopez brothers, is grinding. When a weld’s not proper it has to be taken out with a grinder and redone.

“That’s probably every kid in here,” said Gonzales. “They complain about the grinding part constantly and my comment to them every time is if they don’t want to grind, weld better.”

His students have taken the message to heart, and have, with plenty of practice, seen improvement.

“Several of these kids in here, when they got to their final test, they’ve had to grind very little. It’s a big accomplishment—especially in the short time they’ve been with me.”

One student who’s not afraid to practice his welds over and over is Jose Lopez. Lopez was offered the class through his employer Positive Outcomes, where he works in maintenance. When Lopez was a child, a firework popped in his eye, leaving him blind out of one eye and affecting his depth perception.

“It’s something that he shouldn’t be able to do because of depth perception, because you have to maintain the correct arc length when you’re welding and he’s figured it out,” said Gonzales.

Lopez did excellent work on his 3G test, but the next test, an overhead position, seemed impossible.

“We were able to talk about it, and work together to get him in the right position,” said Gonzales. “He practiced for hours on getting that position down on just a practice plate. He probably ran about 50 welds before he perfected it, and then he went ahead and took the test and passed it on his first attempt.”

For Lopez the key was consistency, practice and not giving up.

Growing the Program

The welding class is just the start, says Socorro School Board President Dave Hicks.

“Our next effort is to do other classes,” said Hicks. “Bring in the electrical, bring in the plumbing, and have auto mechanics and diesel mechanics. I think diesel mechanics is what we’re looking at next.”

New Mexico Tech Community Education Coordinator Ginese Vigil would also like to grow the program.

“The biggest thing is we have kids who have a drive, who have an ambition, but may not have the means to get up to Albuquerque to go to CNM or go to UNM Valencia to further their education, so we want to make sure that we’re bringing those programs here so that they can succeed,” said Vigil.