Pensacola State College student Gilbert Calderon cuts steel during welding class at the Century campus Tuesday morning July 15, 2014. PSC is offering a welding certification class at the Century campus that students can complete in just three-semesters.(Photo: Tony Gibersonfirstname.lastname@example.org, Tony Gibersonemail@example.com)
Twenty-two-year-old Wayne Marshall is taking part in Pensacola State College’s welding program to improve life for him and his family. Trent Wallace, 33, signed up in order to find direction.
Both students now feel they’re on their way to a better life.
PSC’s welding program started this summer at the college’s campus in Century, one of the most impoverished areas in the county. The program puts students on track to become certified welders within a short period of time, three semesters, so that they can land lucrative jobs and get on track to improve their lives.
Currently, 31 students are taking welding classes, which are offered during the day and in the evening.
“I came to PSC to register for another program, and then I heard about the welding program,” said Marshall, who lives in Walnut Hill, about 16 miles west of Century. “I jumped on that because I thought it was a good opportunity because welders are in high demand, and I thought it was a better chance to get a job right out of school.”
Marshall is the youngest in his family and has three sisters and one brother. He said his goal is to help get his family, which struggles financially, become “comfortable and stable.”
According to the welding program’s organizers, certified welders can make as much as $80,000 a year to start, though the average pay is $24 an hour or about $49,000 a year.
“I really just want to improve mine and my family’s lifestyle. Anything is better than what we have now,” Marshall said.
Getting students into well-paying jobs as quickly as possible was one of the key points to the program and why Pensacola State decided to hold it in Century, where 46.8 percent of the population lives below the poverty level, according to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau data.
“We’re actually starting at ground zero with changing the culture of the community,” said Paula Byrd, the director of PSC’s Century campus. “These are students who never thought that college was in their reach, academically or logistically.”
Not all students, though, enrolled in the program are looking to get out of poverty.
Wallace, a Pensacola resident and Florida State University graduate, came into the program after trying various different career paths that, for one reason or another, just didn’t seem to fit.
He even passed the LSAT and went to law school for one year before deciding he wanted to try welding.
“My father and I talked a lot about it, and I decided that I want to work smarter instead of harder,” Wallace said. “I think the convenience of the program is great, and the demand for welders is staggering. There are a lot of jobs available, and this program is my shot to move forward.”
In the program — which is held in two mobile, high-tech, state-of-the-art trailers — students start off learning to weld using welding simulators, or virtual welding machines. They later move on to live welding with real-world materials.
“Those simulators are like high-tech video games that are designed to decrease the time you go from having no skills to entry-level skills,” said Dan Busse, dean of workforce education and vocational support at PSC. “We can train students to become welders somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 percent faster.”
The program also includes a career coach who helps students facing tough financial challenges and other social issues.
“The challenges ahead (for students), they are there, but we’re meeting those challenges head on,” said Rafael Deliz, the program career coach. “We stay in contact with the students on a continuous basis. We interview them. We talk about their life issues and what we can do to make their experience better to ensure they’re able to finish the program.”
Deliz also helps students to find work once they’ve completed the program, which Busse said won’t be difficult to do.
“I expect that by the end of the program, most of our students will have jobs,” Busse said. “There’s an enormous demand for welders up and down the Gulf Coast.”
In the meantime, Marshall and Wallace are enjoying the experience.
“It’s good experience,” Marshall said. “It’s hands-on, and you’ve got the simulators that teach you how to weld before you move on to live welding, and that track your progress. That’s what I enjoy about it.”
Watch live welders
Want to see live welding? Watch our video of the students enrolled in Pensacola State College’s welding program at pnj.com.
Want to learn to weld?
To apply for Pensacola State’s welding program, visit www.pensacolastate.edu or stop by the admissions office at any PSC campus. To get more details by phone, call 471-4658.