Seventeen-year-old Nolan McKee didn’t have much welding experience before taking a course this spring, but now his dad has potential projects all over their ranch to use McKee’s new skill.
“There were a few times when knowing how to solder would have been helpful,” McKee said. “Thought I might as well take a welding course and be more useful on the ranch.”
McKee was in the first class of the Colorado Welding Institute’s new workshop in Hayden, which is equipped with 16 welding stations among other new tools – much better than the old Lincoln welder that sat around his family’s ranch in Savory, Wyoming.
Kevin Kleckler, a longtime welding teacher in the Hayden School District and founder of the institute, said the welding course, which resumes next month, is one of the only options for earning certificates in the north. -western Colorado.
“From there to Yellowstone, and on to Durango, Denver, and on to Salt Lake City,” Kleckler said, explaining the lack of welding instructors in the area. “And I’m the only certified welding inspector.”
Including a grant from the city, Kleckler said he’s invested about half a million dollars in his new store at 412 Commerce St. in Hayden and has enough room to accommodate 16 students at a time.
The workshop is in a simple pole barn with welding stations outside and workbenches and plasma cutters in the center.
“I built the store exactly how I wanted it, so I could stand in the middle and watch everything happen,” Kleckler said.
Students have come from all over to take his classes over the years, which he began teaching about 25 years ago at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig and later at Babson-Carpenter Career Technical Education Center in Hayden.
There are about 170 technical certifications in welding, and Kleckler said he can teach them all, though most of his students seek to learn the most common twelve. Its courses offer student certifications with the American Welding Society and the American Petroleum Institute.
The two main types of people who take his classes are those who want to learn welding for their career and those who are looking to add skills because of a particular hobby. For Max Stepan, who works on lifts for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., it’s both.
“I wanted to do it mainly so I could do things at work, but also for my own reasons,” Stepan said. “I’m also an artist…and I have projects where I needed a little deeper understanding of the welding process to bring them to fruition.”
Kleckler said learning the skill has become increasingly important as the American Welding Institute estimates the country will face a shortage of about 375,000 welders by next year.
Not only is welding a skilled labor industry with a significant shortage, Kleckler said many of the welding job postings he sees offer starting salaries around $60,000. McKee said if ranching was no longer a viable career path for him, welding would be a good second option in his mind.
“The workforce is aging, all the baby boomers are retiring,” Kleckler said. “The trades are coming back, they’re booming and they’re making a lot of money.”
Mike Anson, owner of Anson Excavation in Craig, said welding is involved in many aspects of his business, although he often isn’t the one anymore. He took the Kleckler course with his son this spring to brush up on the old skill for him and give his son a new one.
“He had welding lessons at Moffat County High School, but you can’t get any type of certification here,” Anson said. “He wants to keep doing something with the family business, both him and his brother, so that’s just another aspect of something he can bring to our business.”
Kleckler offers two courses. One starts September 13 and teaches TIG welding and the other starts September 14 and will focus on MIG and stick welding techniques. Each is once a week for 10 weeks and costs $2,500. For more information, email Kleckler at [email protected].
Eventually, Kleckler said he wanted to offer a course that would teach certified welders to become welding inspectors, a job he says can be “quite lucrative” and is very rare locally.
“These skills, no matter where you go from Colorado to Maine, it’s the same thing,” Kleckler said. “You take the skills you have with you.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email [email protected]