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Date: Wed, Mar 17th, 2021

Great Falls College welding program gives students real-world experience

Great Falls College welding students took a trip out to a worksite on the Phillips 66 pipeline to gain real-world experience.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Great Falls College MSU welding students recently spent two days around northcentral Montana gaining real world experience.

Second-year students Nate Beeler and Nathan Jones said the trips to Spika Design and Manufacturing in Lewistown and out with a Phillips 66 work crew to identify a trouble spot in the pipeline help them see the possibilities out there upon graduation.

"It's one thing to hear your instructor talk about what (companies do), and it's another thing entirely to go to their work space and their fabrication bays and see the machines they are working with, see the metal they are actually working with, what they pump out and what they are capable of," said Jones, a second-year welding student who also is working as a shop aid for the program doing everything from maintenance to helping first-year students.

"To go one step further and actually weld with the guys or work with stuff they are working on and see what they do for their welds, it gives a more full opinion of that place than looking at their website or hearing about it from your instructor."

Joel Sims, Trades Program director at Great Falls College, said it's rewarding when the students are able to get out in the field.

"Being able to provide students with any exposure to real work environments is a huge bonus to their learning experience," he said. "We appreciate it greatly when we can connect with an industry partner to have students witness or even possible participate in some live work."

Welding instructor Todd Reser said it's also good to get the students exposure to the many different jobs available to welders.

"There's a whole different world of welding than they are exposed to here, so that's why we're going to the tours on Spika," he said. We're having Allied Steel from Lewistown come here. Michel's Pipeline is coming to put on a Demo. And Alcom Trailers in Bonner, we're going to tour their facility and hopefully have another partner. We're working as a department is to show them a wide variety of opportunities to use their skills."

At Spika, the Great Falls College students were able to weld with Spika's crew members and use the company's equipment to get a better feel for the company.

Spika is an aluminum welding facility that builds platforms for airplanes and helicopters, Beeler said.

"They showed us around the shop, and they showed us all of their processes and what their platforms look like and all their welding procedures," he said. "It was a good experience with the practice time we got too because it just shows what they do, and it could be a career opportunity too."

At Phillips 66, the students went out to a job site where the company had identified a potential weak spot in the pipeline.

"We went out there on a cold day, so it was a good way to see what you might encounter in a pipeline job like that," Jones said. "Some people really like that, good or bad weather, being outside, and we went to an actual worksite to see what's done."

Both Beeler and Jones started at four-year institutions, University of Providence and Montana State University, respectively after high school, before finding homes at Great Falls College.

Jones took some welding classes at Great Falls High that put "welding in the back of my mind as a solid fall-back, and now that fall-back is what I'm looking for in a career," he said.

In high school, Beeler took a quarter of what he called "old timer's welding melting metal together," he said. "It has gone pretty well for me (at Great Falls College) ... It has helped me learn how to weld since I really didn't know anything about it. The teachers are great here. They really help you out and push you to your limits."

Beeler is on a wait list for an apprenticeship program with Ironworkers in Helena.

He starts to tick off the reasons he is interested in that work when welding instructor Doug Zander interrupts.

"Tell him the money," Zander said, laughing.

"It's good money too," Beeler said, grinning at Zander's teasing.

And then Zander goes on to clarify that with Beeler's two years at Great Falls College, it would be reasonable to be making $23 to $24 an hour with one year of the three-year program shaved off because of Beeler's education at the college.

Zander explains the apprenticeship would be broken into stints ranging from tying rebar to working with structural steel to doing decorative work.

"It wouldn't be the same thing every day," Beeler said, explaining that is what is most interesting to him about the job.

Like Beeler, Jones will graduate in just a couple months.

He found Great Falls College when he took a blacksmithing class through the Lifelong Learning Center and met Joel Sims, the director of the college's trades division, and he then entered the program.

He is still eyeing next steps, but he isn't worried about finding work.

"I'm confident in my skills after being here for two years, and last summer I worked at ADF International, so I'm not too worried about scoring a job, even if I don't get what I'm looking for, I could move on to the next thing," he said.

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Record Number: 735