Community Colleges Boost Welding Programs as Manufacturing Jobs Grow

Siemens Mobility Inc.’s recent $3.4 billion order from Amtrak to build at least 73 train sets highlights a need in the Sacramento region for more manufacturing employees, and local colleges are stepping up programs to help in that endeavor.

Even before Siemens announced its new Amtrak contract, the company was looking to hire 100 new welders for its 60-acre train factory at French Road in Sacramento, which builds train cars, locomotives and light-rail cars for systems in the U.S. and Canada.

The Siemens operations in Sacramento and at McClellan Park have openings now for 100 more welders, said Caroline Cassidy, spokeswoman with Siemens in Norcross, Georgia, via email. The company currently employs more than 300 welders. The Sacramento operation employs a total of 2,100 people, but Siemens said that number is going to rise with the new orders.

“What Siemens wants, and what all the other employers in our region need, are people with MIG (metal inert gas) welding and flux core welding experience, but what most of the schools teach these days is stick welding,” said Aleda Vaughn, department chairwoman and welding instructor at Sierra College in Rocklin. “That was a perfect setup for 40 years ago, but not today.”

Stick welding is basic arc welding, used for pipes and some joinery in metal construction. MIG welding is used to manufacture larger parts, and the process shields the joints from contaminants with an inert shielding gas.

Most of the employers in the region that are seeking welders are looking for employees who can fabricate complex equipment, and that is an additional skill on top of just welding, Vaughn said.

“A lot of programs turn out great welders, but they can’t build anything,” she said. The program at Sierra College is also teaching students how to MIG weld stainless steel, which is an even more complicated process, but it’s a skill that’s in demand for job openings at local employers such as Sacramento almond processor Blue Diamond Growers and Sacramento-based tomato processor The Morning Star Co., as well as Siemens and other local manufacturing companies.

Siemens often hires new welders through a staffing company on a trial basis, she said. “They have very high standards.”

Students who go through the Sierra College welding program can be offered direct employment without going through the staffing companies, she said.

Siemens has been supporting some college programs with scrap material and even offering guaranteed interviews with graduates, Vaughn said.

Siemens is working with welding programs at Sierra College, Cosumnes River College, American River College, Woodland Community College and San Joaquin Delta College. And that is in addition to two courses in welding Siemens runs itself.

Michael Cahill, president of rolling stock for North America for Siemens Mobility, said Siemens will be adding a third teaching program at its campus.

At Sierra College, the 16-week welding and manufacturing program is six two-unit classes, or the classes can be taken at night over several semesters.

“This is what the local employers want,” Vaughn said, adding that graduates are employable in a new career after one semester.

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