By: Dick Melsheimer
Our family is made up of generations of proud Californians. Many years ago, California ranked #1 in the United States for education. Since then, that ranking has taken a tumble. I’ve seen our status plummet and wondered how and when our state would finally turn itself around. Awhile back, I came across a seminar where the speaker said (in so many words), “If you don’t like the way things are, quit whining and go do something about it.”
So I did.
It all started when we changed the type of steel we use for building some of our directional drill products. We wanted to ensure we had the most up-to-date procedures for welding this new type of steel. So, we took the issue to the welding department head at Allen Hancock College, a leading community college right here in Santa Maria. The instructor’s insight and skill solved our concern and showed us that fresh thinking can bring a lot to the table, even in an established trade like welding.
From there, I volunteered to see if young kids would be interested in learning about welding at their local school Career Day. We used a custom-built, bright red trailer that looks like a giant Lincoln Electric welding machine and opens up to form a 4-person welding station. Boy, were we surprised by the reaction. The kids loved it. So we kept it up…for 15 years and counting.
As part of our presentation, we teach the kids about the basic principles of welding, fit them for safety gear, then give them the chance to work on their very own welding project. We’ve done custom nameplates, flower pots, and mini steel airplanes. Each child gets one-on-one attention and instruction from one of our staff, company interns, or one of the experienced high school or college students we contract to help out.
Some are eager to get their hands on the welding equipment and some are scared stiff by the whole process. But at the end of the day, every kid gets to experience firsthand one of the key processes in manufacturing–and they come away with a project they can be proud of.
Many of these junior high kids don’t have a clue what they want to do as a career. And almost none of them have ever worked with their hands. They have no idea that something like manufacturing is even an option. To be able to take something home with them and think, “I made that!” is a game-changer.
In an evolving industry like manufacturing, getting the next generation on board is critical. If we want to continue providing jobs for skilled laborers and producing American-made products, it’s imperative that we introduce kids to the trades as early as possible. We are now teaching welding at elementary school Career Days in addition to junior high and high schools.
With the success of these Career Days, we’ve expanded to participate in more local community programs. We help sponsor a welding competition at Hancock College for the top high school welders in the area. We’re part of EPIC (Engineering Possibilities in College), an engineering-focused summer program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for high school students. We’re open to participating in any initiatives that will get more of the younger generation excited about manufacturing (and provide us with the next generation of staff to produce our directional drill products).
It feels fantastic to see how far we’ve come in the last 15 years, and how many students we’ve introduced to welding. It’s my way of giving back to the community. And it resonates with our customers, too. Mechanics, welders and other skilled tradespeople are a huge part of their own operations. But it’s getting harder and harder to fill these positions because this set of skills just isn’t taught as much in schools anymore.
I believe in the power of education to inspire kids to get involved in the world around them. With 18 Career Days scheduled for the upcoming school year, we’re keeping up the momentum. Who knows? We might just see your son or daughter there. If that’s the case, don’t be surprised if they come home excited and ask for a MIG welder next Christmas.