A new program at Community Unit School District 300 will allow students to become certified welders upon graduation.
Hampshire High School houses a welding technology career pathway program that students from District 300 can apply and transfer into, said Kristin Corriveau, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
District 300 and Elgin Area School District U-46 are the second and third fully accredited programs in the U.S. at a high school level, behind a high school in California.
Students will be able to test at Hampshire and earn credentials to become a certified welder from the American Welding Society.
The program was prompted by industry demand, with the total number of jobs for welders, solderers, cutters and brazers anticipated to grow by 6 percent through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hampshire’s pathway program has existed for dual credit in conjunction with Elgin Community College for the past three years.
“Just having the accreditation puts them at a huge step up because they can go and immediately find employment when others will have to find further education before getting to the accreditation stage,” Corriveau said.
Hampshire High School senior Leela Edwards plans to pursue a career in welding, and she hopes to attend a NASCAR welding training program once she graduates, Corriveau said.
“Our students are very committed to the program, and this opens big doors for career paths,” Corriveau said. “They see the benefits of it and hope to hone skills in even further.”
Corriveau said she is unsure whether current seniors will be able to test at the facility, but all future grades will.
The two schools serve as the only accredited testing facilities for welding from the society in the region. Corriveau said the district is deciding whether to allow outside participants to test at the school site for a fee.
The test is rigorous, Corriveau said, with a mock test taking two and a half hours to complete. Upon receiving accreditation, a student has six months to get a job before having to take the test again.
In the future, students would enter the program as a sophomore with one period class and then double periods as juniors and seniors.
District 300 offers 11 pathway programs – including early childhood development; electrical technology; information technology and computer science; entrepreneurship; and science, technology, engineering and math – designed to give students real-world career experience and provide college-bound students a baseline for their preferred fields.