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MCTEA seeks to close skills gap with new equipment

The Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy's welding program has added 10 new machines, doubling the total number of machines in the high school's welding and metalwork lab.

The purchase of these new multi-process machines, which have aluminum cutting capabilities, was possible after MCTEA received $92,000 from a state grant and a workforce grant from the Department of Education. The grants were received in April, and the new equipment arrived in July.

With the new machines, the students in the welding program can now develop more complex, higher-level skills which were not available at the high school level before this year. The main goals of the lab instructors are to spark the interest and passion of students pursuing careers in welding or metalwork and to prepare them for an easier transition into the workforce or higher education in the field.

"A total of 10 new machines with push-pull guns are now set up in the workroom and all are outfitted with what is called the 'quick connects,' which means different types of welding tasks can be easily done by switching out and attaching tools before moving on in the welding process," said Daniel Zard, lead instructor of the welding program at MCTEA. "I fell in love with these machines when I was a student of the welding program at MTI."

In addition to the new machines, MCTEA purchased new helmets for the students through the Perkins Act, a state fund that allows schools to apply for improvement funds for equipment. The helmets offer a wider visual range through the large sight glass and comply with the high safety standards of the school.

This semester, more than 100 students have registered for MCTEA's welding program, with some of them commuting from Mount Vernon, Ethan or Parkston to take part in the Mitchell program.

Cody Kaufmann, a high school junior from Spencer and a student of the welding program, has already completed four of the five classes offered. He intends to enroll in MTI's welding program after high school.

"I took Welding I and II with MTI instructor Jed Schoenfelder. He put together an awesome program and really gave the basics on how to weld on steel," Kaufmann said. "Then moving in to Dan Zard's program, he really emphasized on the aluminium part of it."

Educators expect that the higher skill level of MCTEA welding scholars will have a positive impact on the welding programs at MTI, as MCTEA students can familiarize themselves with the processing and setup of equipment — skills that are taught early on at MTI — while still in high school.

"If a student takes two or three years of welding at MCTEA and then another two years at MTI, they know this machine inside and out, so good that they could break it down and put it back together," said Travis Peterson, head instructor of the Welding and Manufacturing Department at MTI. "That continues to improve the welding skill levels in the Mitchell community with welding skill development even from the metallurgy side, which we teach at MTI."

Some of the welding machines now available at MCTEA are set up for gas tank and Tungsten Inert Gas, or TIG, welding and have a torch and a stinger for stick welding, as well as their own lead for MIG welding (gas metal arc welding/wire feed.) TIG welding is most commonly used to weld thin sections of stainless steel or aluminum, while in the MIG arc welding process, continuous solid wire electrode is fed through a welding gun and into the weld pool, joining the two base materials together.

MTI reports a 100 percent job placement for participants of its welding program.

"For each student graduating the program, there are 20 jobs to choose from," Peterson said.

"But that applies to other programs as well, like machining, laser cutting, drafting design, robotics, as well."