On the campus of Central High School, in the vacant space which used to house their automotive program, Suncoast Technical Education Center or SunTech for short has set-up a top of the line welding program for both secondary and post secondary students.
SunTech was created with a $1.5 million appropriation from the state and opened their doors in 2013. Their primary location is on the campus of Nature Coast Technical High School where they offer cybersecurity and cosmetology programs, among others.
Nicola Barlow, Manager of Career Enhancement for SunTech, explained that using the state appropriation of funds has made the welding facility a reality. Surprisingly, the process of refurbishing and outfitting the space took just over a year to complete.
Barlow credited the facilities department for Hernando County schools with helping her through the process. "The facilities department at Hernando County Schools is amazing. They helped me understand what I needed to do to build a welding program." From holding monthly meetings, working with contractors and inspectors, to decorating and epoxying the floors, the facilities department kept everything progressing, Barlow explained. "They are the unsung heroes of this project," stated Barlow.
The secondary program currently has 130 students, all of which have the opportunity to become state certified welders upon completion."The kids have really gravitated towards it," explained Barlow. Even if the students in the program don't complete it entirely before they graduate high school, Barlow explained that the students can transition into the adult program to complete their certification.
The post secondary program will hopefully have a class of 15 students. Currently they have four students in the 1050 hour program. For the post secondary program, tuition is prepaid. SunTech is still in the process of accreditation after which they can apply to take financial aid. The post secondary program is part time and takes about 2 years to complete.
The ironworkers union have been very interested in supporting this program since they are always in search of welders. They helped Barlow understand what equipment she needed to purchase and suggested additions to the Department of Education curriculum so that students come out prepared for the work environment. SunTech also adopted the textbook the ironworkers use to train their welders.
Along with the ironworkers, local businesses became involved with supporting the program. Alumi-Guard donated 3 tig (tungsten inert gas) welders and Accuform provided safety signs and posters.
According to the American Welding Society, manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of the Nation's GDP and continues to grow. Because of a recent rise in China's economy, more manufacturing jobs are coming back to the US. Because training has dwindled while jobs were overseas, the manufacturing industry is facing a shortage of skilled welders, estimated by the American Welding Society to be at 290,000 by the year 2020.
New technologies increase the productivity of workers, so the quality of those workers are more important than quantity. The American Welding Society states that up to date training is key because those in the manufacturing industry must be able to work with new technologies.
The bureau of labor statistics predicts a 4% growth in the welding field between 2014 and 2024, which is below average but they do predict job outlook to be good for skilled welders with up to date training. In 2014, there were approximately 400,000 welding positions nationwide.
Florida is among the top states for welding jobs according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. Projectionscentral.com predicts 14,250 welding jobs in the state for 2017 with an annual average of 720 openings.
In April of 2015, the Tampa Bay area made Ziprecruiter's top Southern cities for jobs. Construction was among Tampa Bay's top five industries with welders most in demand.
If you are interested in the welding program at SunTech visit www.sunteched.com or call 352-797-7091.