ECGG Welding Instructor Sparks Life Lessons

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Vicki Young struggled to reach her classroom, determined not to be slowed by a left ankle injury. Young had two torn tendons and two fractures, which eventually required surgery.

Since 2016, the expert welder has taught welding at Eastern Gateway Community College, and conducted hands-on instruction at the nearby Choffin Career and Technical Center. Her students range in age from 17 years old to those in their 60s and 70s.

“One of the main things we do here is develop our students with a work ethic,” Young said. “A lot of times, believe it or not, students will come here and they won’t have a clue what a work ethic consists of. I, as the instructor, firmly believe in teaching by example. I work, very long, extensive hours here at Eastern Gateway. 

“I still hobbled in to work every day.” 

Some are in her class who see welding as a hobby, to work on race cars or metal sculptures. For others, it’s a path to a career.

Baby boomers retiring, the attrition rate and the deterioration of the human body are all reasons to replenish the welding workforce. According to Indeed, the top five welding jobs are pipe welder, aerospace welder, military support welder, underwater welder and certified welding supervisor.

Young said the need for welders will always be there. Welding is part of everyday life from household appliances to the vehicles we drive.

“Most people don’t realize how welding is an intricate part of all of our lives on an everyday basis,” Young said. “It’s replenishing the skill set that’s being lost due to attrition. The void has been there all along. We’re going to attempt to provide a cohort of skilled workers.”

Young teaches welders pursuing an associate in applied arts degree and those seeking a welding or advanced welding certificate from EGCC.

According to EGCC, “The welding degree program is designed to provide students with sufficient knowledge and skills necessary to become a successful pipe welder. Content will cover v-groove welds in flat, horizontal, vertical and overhead positions on both plate and pipe steel. Theory will be augmented with hands-on laboratory instructions.”

Young wants to ready her students for life outside of the classroom. She wants them to leave with documentation, saying they’ve met the qualifications for strict testing standards from the American Welding Society or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Class sizes are usually in the single figures. The morning of Jan. 14, there were only two students in Shielded Metal Arc Welding III. Young says the student-to-instructor ratio enhances the hands-on learning, along with the theory taught in the classroom.

“We want our students to develop a mindset where we’re trainable,” Young said.

Young says the prevailing wage is around $14 an hour for employers seeking welders around the Mahoning Valley. Most employers in this area are looking for those who know flux cored arc and metal inert gas (MIG) welding, both taught at EGCC.

Young ensures her students leave EGCC with the complete skill set to put them into the workforce – an all-around skill set, not just learning the trades, she said. Young wants her students to prepare to apply and interview for a position.

“I often refer to our program as a ‘weldness’ program,” Young said. “Not only do you obtain the skill set of welding, you learn the soft skills of furthering yourself and obtaining your career in welding, also.

“I can say personally whether it’s math or any of the other programs or any subjects any of our students might be having difficulties with,” she added. “I was a math tutor when I was their age. That was my hustle as I went through college and even after college. Just align the people that can assist them, whether they’re taking our courses in welding or their general elective courses throughout their tenure here as a college student. There’s a lot of mentoring that takes place. There’s a lot of aligning of the details, aligning personnel to make them successful in their competition of journey here at Eastern Gateway.”

Steven Mask, a 2005 Niles McKinley High School graduate, was working at a local Walmart for the last couple of years. A friend at work told him about welding, something that intrigued him.

“They say it was a good trade to get into,” he said. “I know there’s always a need for welders.”

Mike Kanos lifted his black welding helmet with green flairs highlighting the design. You could see him through his clear, protective glasses and red mask on his face, protruding through his black hood enveloped around his head.

A red drape enclosed his workspace at the northeast end of Choffin. Flashes of glowing light emanated from behind, but nothing seeped through to harm those outside Kanos’ bubble as he worked on horizontal and vertical welds. The preparation he does inside Young’s tight-knit class readies the 2019 Boardman High School graduate for a career.

Safety is one of the first lessons Young adheres to in classes: Beware of the welder’s flash and exposure of ultraviolet light to one’s eyes that happens in a matter of seconds.

“You don’t feel it immediately,” Young said. “Maybe you’re at home, sore and a little grainy. As you start to rub them or whatever, they’ll turn really red. Most people will equate it to sand poured in your eyes. It’s the smallest amount of exposure that can produce that feeling.

“In my tenure as a welder, old-timers would say in order to cure that is take a white potato, slice it and put both of the slices over your eyes. It takes that sensation away.”

Kanos hoped to feel the sensation of a welding implement while he was at Boardman High School. His older brother, Nick, experienced that, but the program was discontinued when Mike began high school. Kanos’ initial plans were leaving high school and joining the United States Air Force, but peanut allergy stopped his processing.

His mother works for Boardman Township and found out her union would pay for his schooling at EGCC. The Free College Benefit is for union members and their families. They do not have to pay out of pocket for any tuition, fees or e-books at Eastern Gateway Community College.

“I don’t have any debt or anything,” Kanos said.

He has a year in the program and is intrigued by the tall skyscrapers in New York City and wants to be part of the apprenticeship welding program. Kanos admits he’s not afraid of heights.

“I’m in it for the thrill,” he said.

Pictured: Welding student Mike Kanos; Vicki Young, Choffin welding instructor and program chair at Eastern Gateway Community College; and welding student Steven Mask in the welding workshop at Choffin.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.