Welding competition at Drake State sparks job interests in field

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Sparks are flying for a group of high school students sliding into the manufacturing field. The kids competed in a welding competition at Drake State Community and Technical College on Wednesday.

The competition was more of an experience than a heated match, but it was a competition that could link these students to their futures.

"It's always a good idea to get students out of their comfort zone so when they get in industry they'll be prepared," said Drake State's workforce development director Bob Grissim.

Twenty-four high school students from across North Alabama showed off their soldering skills with Drake State students looking on.

"I'm kind of a role model for these guys in the shop," said Illya Gibbons. He's a sophomore student and welding instructor at Drake.

The college is getting high school students hands-on experience to encourage them to consider advanced manufacturing careers.

"They're just like 'wow, you want to do that?' and I'm like yeah," said Sarah Cowart. She's a sophomore from Jackson County - and clearing her own path in the industry.

"I just like it," said Cowart. "I think it's a fun thing to do -- experience."

That experience is in demand. Grissim said by 2025 Alabama will need 500-thousand workers trained in the latest techniques and technology. "That's Governor [Kay] Ivey's plan," he said. That's people already in the welding industry - and students at the competition.

"I'm focused on welding," said Gibbons, "but I'm mainly into pipe welding." Competitions like this one can fuse students with a good-paying job in just a year or two -- or even sooner.

"I have five different pipe companies coming to look at me every 2-3 months," said Gibbons.

Drake State college students competed in a separate welding competition in order to qualify for the Skills USA competition in 2020.


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