BANGOR, Maine — Beal College officials think they have picked the right program and the right time to offer the school’s first occupational associate degree — in welding technology.
“This is our first vocational program with our first occupational associate degree and it’s going to be the first of a few,” said Corey Leighton, Beal College’s campus director. “We don’t know how many total yet, but within the next year, we’ll be doing this with another one.”
The welding technology program will begin Oct. 29 and accept as many as 56 students, who will get 1,200 hours on instructional equipment and class time on an eight-week “mod system” schedule.
Jesse Crosby, the program’s director and a full-time instructor, has six years of welding tech teaching experience at both Penobscot Job Corps and United Technologies Center in Bangor and nine years’ welding experience overall.
“I had this as an idea in the back of my mind and then Beal approached me out of the blue and offered me a job here last January, so this is a perfect fit,” Crosby said. “It’s pretty much an ideal situation. When I worked at Job Corps, I rebuilt the shop there for them. Then I went to UTC and helped reshape that program, and now this is all from scratch.”
Leighton said Crosby helped him create the program and also designed the lab.
“It’s 5,300 square feet. We wanted to make sure the space was adequate and the students weren’t crammed in together,” said Leighton. “They get a full 1,200 hours on equipment. This is absolutely new space that was previously used as a warehouse. This is new along with our gym, the lounge and now the welding department.
“We’re trying to offer more courses as well as more services on campus for our students.”
Crosby, Leighton and Beal College President Allen Stehle said the program will meet a profound need in Penobscot County and the state as a whole.
“Just take a look around — with Hollywood Casino, the new auditorium, Cianbro’s plant in Brewer,” Crosby said. “I mean, Cianbro has to train their own guys because they couldn’t find enough skilled men to do it. There’s a definite need for it.”
Crosby said it was a big challenge getting his students placed in postsecondary education programs locally with only one school in town — Eastern Maine Community College — offering a program.
“They can only serve so many students and do so much,” he said. “I am just happy to be able to give students in Maine a chance to get an education and become part of the tradesman world.”
Mike Collins, a former Penobscot Job Corps welding instructor who spent 28 years as a journeyman pipefitter and welder, will be the program’s other full-time instructor and each class will have no more than 14 students.
“You don’t want the classes too large because it’s a safety risk and it provides an ideal student-to-teacher ratio with more personal instruction,” Leighton said.
Graduates of Beal’s welding program will have the chance to test for two nationally recognized, all-position American Welding Society certifications — flux-cored and structural stick — plus one American Society of Mechanical Engineers pipe welding test.
Certification will put an even higher demand on graduates of Beal’s new program.
“We have had a lot of inquiries about a program like this, and not just from students or prospective students,” Leighton said. “Some local companies are concerned that there will be a shortage of skilled workers when their current employees who have been working for them for more than a decade retire.”
Leighton recalled a recent development that highlights the need for skilled welders.
“Back when Cianbro got that modular contract, they needed about 240 welders and searching the entire state, they got just 67, so they had to go national with their search,” he said. “If this program were already here, we could have probably contributed another 56 welders.”