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November 4, 2011

ICC's Career Expo Exposes Students to Unique Opportunities

Spindale, NC — Travis Toms, an industrial trades instructor at 
R-S Central High School, remembers a time in Rutherford County when a strong work ethic and stronger back would almost guarantee employment.

“You used to graduate from high school and you could go down to Cone Mill and get a job,” Toms said. “Now, there are no mills. It’s important for these kids to have at least a two-year degree.”

Toms brought 62 R-S Central students to Wednesday’s Careers in Construction Expo at Isothermal Community College. About 200 students from across the county attended the expo.

And some of the information they received may have been surprising.

Michael Burch, a representative for ESAB welding and cutting products, said jobs are available for qualified workers despite high unemployment rates and a sluggish economy that would suggest otherwise.

Quoting statistics from the American Welding Society, Burch said the average age of professional welders in the U.S. is 56; for every four welders that retire, there is only one trained to take their place; over the next five years, the AWA expects about 250,000 welding jobs to be available.

“If you don’t mind getting a little dirty and sweaty and you can pass a drug test, you’ll have a job,” Burch said. “Four-year degrees are not for everybody. Only about 30 percent of students got to four-year colleges and the other 70 percent has been ignored for too long. We have to do something to prepare them too.”

2011-11-04_ICC_Construction_Expo_1Students attending the expo got to see and hear from welders, plasma cutters, electricians and other skilled tradesmen as they discussed their occupations and future potential in their fields.

“It’s a great experience,” Alex Godlock, a junior at R-S Central, said of the expo. “It’s a big thing to think about.”

Toms said he encourages his students to consider whether they are cut out for four-year college programs and, as an industrial trades teacher, points out the benefits of proper training for those jobs.

That training, he said, can begin in the high-school classroom. 

In the case of R-S Central, industrial trades classes are certified by the National Center for Construction and Educational Research (NCCER), meaning that students can transfer credit from those classes to their NCCER certified college programs, such as the ones at ICC.

Burch said most welders and other industrial contractors “won’t get rich,” but will be comfortable and always have a job.”

“I’ve known guys with their own (welding) rigs to make over $100,000 a year,” he said. “So, you can do pretty well.”

jclayton@thedigitalcourier.com