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Mobile welding lab teaches skills

Program seeks to address need for qualified manufacturing workers

CRYSTAL LAKE – Kurt Beier believes his welding-on-wheels could be just the beginning of a manufacturing rebirth in America.

Beier, executive director for First Institute Training & Management, has heard manufacturers’ concerns with the lack of skilled workers to replace longtime employees and has found a solution.

Beier is bringing the training to the people, creating a trailer with four welding stations and an eight-person classroom section to offer companies and individuals an opportunity to earn American Welding Society certification within a month.

“People hear manufacturing and think it’s a dead-end job, but it’s not at all,” Beier said. “Businesses have a shortage right now. The average age of these skilled manufacturing workers is about 60 years old and the high schools aren’t teaching industrial arts anymore.”

The traveling welding laboratory made a stop at Knaack LLC in Crystal Lake on Friday to showcase its offerings to area business people. Rick Miller, operations manager for the program, said the trailer was developed to provide two distinct programs.

Miller said the primary program is operated in conjunction with workforce network groups across the state using funds from the Accelerated Training for Illinois Manufacturing grant. The program allows people who have been laid off or are looking to change their skill set to earn welding certification.

Certification is achieved much faster through the program as students take six-hour classes five days a week for four weeks. The 120-hour program expedites the traditional community college process.

Beier’s company also aimed to assist businesses with the trailer, allowing manufacturers to have the laboratory on its premises for a week so employees can gain training on-site. Those courses and training sessions are modified to whatever the business needs, Miller said.

“This is only going to be keep growing,” Miller said. “We envision a lot more of these opportunities to teach. It’s a fast-track solution.”

The program has already seen early demand. Miller said the first course was held recently in Lisle and another course was going to start Monday in DeKalb. A company in southern Illinois will have a modified training session soon after. Beier said the trailer has been booked through June.

Jeffery Poynter, director for the McHenry County Workforce Network Board, said the innovative idea allows businesses to offer their employees crucial training while not needing to cut into production time.

“Almost all manufacturing engages welding, and we’ve had a shortage of welders,” Poynter said. “Sending employees to training becomes difficult. This allows them to stay on-site.”

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