Welding Competition: It’s all about getting a good bead

There’s a sign in an area community college welding shop that states: “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach someone to weld and you feed them for a lifetime.”

There was a lot of teaching and welding taking place Wednesday, May 18, during the first Welding Competition at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) John T. Blong Technology Center. 

The first-time event was presented by EICC and the American Welding Society (AWS).

A student completes the first round of welding Wednesday, May 18, at a first-time Welding Competition in Davenport. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

About 52 area high school and community college students had the chance to show their welding skills, win prizes and meet potential employers during the event held at the technology center at 8500 Hillandale Road, Davenport.

The main goals of the event were to showcase the local students’ abilities, and help them make a connection with area businesses, said Matt Schmit, EICC’s dean of Operations and Applied Programs.

“When we first pitched this idea, we were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming amount of interest and support from both local high schools and area companies. We hope to make this an annual event,” Mr. Schmit added in a news release.

During the morning and early afternoon of the Welding Competition, small groups of students filled the EICC Welding Lab for two rounds of welding and a finalist round. In each round, the students tested their skills in a series of separated workstations and had only a few minutes to complete a small welding project for the judges.

Several of the students taking part in the competition said they enjoy welding because they love seeing good results from their work.

“It’s just really satisfying; it’s satisfying when you take off your hood and see a good bead,” said Grant Schaefer, a Scott Community College student and one of the first-place winners of the Welding Competition.

In addition to doing good work, Wednesday’s competition also had the goal of preparing young people for the work world. It’s a work world that desperately needs welders, several instructors said.

“I keep telling students, ‘Don’t worry, you will have a job,’” said Megan Edens, an EICC welding instructor who helped coordinate the contest.

In fact, recent government information shows a bright future for the welding trade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers was $47,010 in May 2021. Employment in the field is expected to grow 8% from 2020-2030.

Ms. Edens is a former nurse who got tired of her old profession and decided to make a drastic change in her life. She took welding classes, became a welder and eventually became an instructor.

“It’s still a male-dominated profession. But every year, I see more and more women becoming welders,” she added.

Another instructor at the Welding Competition likes the idea of getting more young women into the field. “The girls are a lot easier to teach,” said Dusty Rhodes, a welding instructor. “They seem to be more detail-oriented and pay attention.”

Here are the three top welding contest winners from Wednesday’s competition:

Grant Schaefer of Scott Community College; TIG welding, gas tungsten arc.

Connor Namer of Clinton High School; stick welding, shielded metal arc.

Andrew Adomat, Davenport West High School; MIG welding, gas metal arc.

Each of the first-place winners received a $1,000 scholarship from AWS and various welding-related merchandise as prizes.

In addition to welding, area employers were on hand at the Blong Technology Center to showcase their companies and advertise jobs that need to be filled.

For example, Lisa Pensinger was looking to fill open positions with PCT Ebeam and Integration of Davenport. That company is looking for welders, electrical engineers and other workers.

“We work with a wide variety of metals. We do all custom work,” said Ms. Pensinger, who is human resources director with the company.

Also, Heather Fisher of SSAB of Muscatine was looking for workers to join the specialized steel manufacturer in nearby Muscatine County.

“We want to get our name out there,” said Ms. Fisher. “We are kind of a hidden gem in the Quad Cities. Not a lot of people know about us.”

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