Instructors, students talk Wallace program

Published 10:46 pm Thursday, May 31, 2018

Jamal Williams, Zachary Rutledge, Ladarius Ulmer and Samuel Walker are just a few graduates of the Wallace Community College Selma (WCCS) welding program.

According to Calvin Griffin, Welding Instructor and Department Chair for Technical Programs, WCCS-trained welders consistently earn some of the field’s top salaries, nationally and locally at companies like Bush Hog, RAYCO, Burkes Mechanical, Jordan Welding, and Lavender Construction.

“We prepare our welders for the field, whether construction or industrial,” Griffin said. “Our welders also work at Honda (Manufacturing) in Lincoln, Hyundai in Hope Hull, and Mercedes- Benz plant in Vance.’’

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Some WCCS graduates work out of town, but they still call Selma home and contribute to the local economy.

‘’Our graduates are so successful, and their success is seen throughout the world,” said Raji Gourdine, WCCS’s Associate Dean of Instruction. ‘’So when these guys come home with their new trucks and their new cars and their new homes, people ask what they do, and they say, ‘I’m a welder.’”

Selma companies like Bush Hog continues to partner with WCCS and give many WCCS graduates the opportunity to stay home and work. Bush Hog and other companies are part of the college’s Advisory Committee and actively consult with WCCS faculty on curriculum changes.

“Our goal is to continue to improve, and the industries are instrumental in that process,”

Gourdine said. “Young people from our area and surrounding areas are very proud to say my goal is to one day become a welder.”

The college just began preparing to meet the demand for welders via its high school dual enrollment welding program, which currently serves 80 students statewide.

The success of the initiative traces primarily to the support and funding of the Alabama

Community College System Office of Workforce Development.

“Through OWD grant funding, we were able to overcome that barrier and expand the opportunity to prepare more students to be career ready upon completion from high school,” Gourdine said.

WCCS’ Adult Education program has a non-credit short term welding program designed to train entry level welders for various jobs locally and nationally. Plenty of people are taking advantage of the opportunity.

‘’We’ve actually had an increase in the program since I’ve been here,’’ said Griffin.

In the 15 years Griffin has taught in the one-year program, enrollment has jumped from over 30 students to nearly 200. He expects the numbers to reach 300.

“Our goal is to never turn students away,’’ Gourdine said. ‘’If we have to expand our facilities, which we have done in the past, we will do so. We want to meet the student demand regardless of the circumstances, and we want to meet the needs of our local, state, and national industries.

‘’We get a lot of requests from students who went to other welding schools and can’t pass their welding test and they want practice with us, and regretfully we have to say no, that’s a privilege only for our graduates.”

However, the greatest privilege may be the professional certification that practically guarantees WCCS graduates make more than industry standard wages starting out.

‘’They earn what’s called an NCCER card that allows them to earn $3 more per hour than their counterparts who don’t have that certification,’’ Gourdine said.

The average salary for pipe welders is nearly $100,000. Some of the Welding Technology Program take home upwards of $5,000 per week.

“I’ve seen the paychecks,’’ Gourdine said. ‘’Our graduates will return on a regular basis just to show their instructors copies of their pay stubs. The instructors will make copies, black the names out, and then show them to other students as a way to encourage them.”

Griffin estimates WCCS instructors brings over 40 years of experience from the field of welding.

“We all received our certification from Wallace Selma,” Griffin said. “Wallace instructors have served as foreman, quality control, and general foreman in the construction field and gladly brings that wealth of knowledge to the classroom. The instruction at WCCS is first class.’’

Samuel Walker, a 2011 WCCS graduate, says welding has changed his life.

“Now I am able to do things that I never thought I would be able to do,” he said. “I can now provide for my family and my kids. I have extra money to enjoy life.”