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Five Projects to Share $1 Million to Train Appalachia’s Next Generation of Welders

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) have awarded five grants totaling $1 million to support training programs that will teach workers new welding techniques and other advanced manufacturing skills.

The majority of the funding, $750,000, will be allocated by DOE’s High-Performance Materials program to support the Advanced Welding Workforce Initiative (AWWI) and prepare a new generation of welders to manufacture and service high-temperature alloy components in electric generating stations. Such plants operate at significantly higher temperatures and pressures, which increases efficiency and lowers emissions of carbon dioxide but requires the use of superalloys that can withstand conditions much harsher than those in the older, less efficient facilities.

Demand for workers with similar skills also are needed in the region’s emerging automotive, aerospace, aviation and petrochemical industries. AWWI is part of a series of joint efforts between DOE and ARC to help Appalachia fully harness the economic and workforce potential of these industrial sectors.

The funding awards were made on their basis to connect with pressing regional needs, including expanding offerings into economically distressed areas, targeting designated Opportunity Zones and recruiting workers in long-term recovery from substance use disorder.

Selected programs and their funding amounts are:

  • Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, will use $336,796 to partner with institutions such as Mountwest Community and Technical College to educate and train Central Appalachians in advanced welding methods needed in manufacturing, power plant, aviation, automotive and petrochemical industries. The program will offer hands-on training through classrooms and a new mobile training laboratory. The university anticipates at least 18 students will obtain new employment, 35 workers/trainees will obtain new or enhance their current positions, and at least 10 businesses will be improved after the first year of implementation.
  • Belmont College in St. Clairsville, Ohio, will use $281,603 to partner with Eastern Gateway Community College and Ohio Mid-East Career and Technology Center to launch the Eastern Ohio Appalachia Pipe Welding and Fabrication Project. This regional approach will equip advanced welders with specialized skills required by natural gas and combined-cycle power plants, and growing sectors such as oil and gas and metal fabrication, which will soon need hundreds of qualified workers for a proposed ethane cracker plant in Belmont County. Within the project’s first year, at least 50 students will obtain new jobs or enhance their current positions. After three years of completion, 121 students and 30 workers/trainees will acquire new positions or advance in existing jobs.
  • Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama, will use $198,000 to purchase training equipment to strengthen robotic welding programs on its Decatur and Huntsville campuses. The addition of robotic welding equipment and subsequent courses will equip students with much-needed skills sets, while incumbent workers will be able to obtain a certificate in robotic welding to advance their careers. The robotic welding equipment will support a broader range of courses than currently offered in both the welding technologies and the aerospace welding programs, with the potential to create a new short-term certificate. The programs will train 110 degree-seeking students during the project period.
  • Southeast Community and Technical College in Cumberland, Kentucky, will use $105,281 to update and expand the welding program on its Harlan campus and increase the number of available scholarships. The program will provide hands-on training in skills such as advanced alloy joining and advanced bending and fitting, along with education in mathematics, digital literacy and communication. After two years, students will earn a welder diploma and can qualify for welding certification testing to meet future employer requirements. This project, serving three economically distressed counties that also include designated Opportunity Zones, will prepare 15 students for employment with local businesses.
  • Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC) in Youngwood, Pennsylvania, will use $78,320 to expand training and add new welding certifications, including the joining of advanced alloys using robotics, to meet employer needs in high-temperature power plants, as well as aviation, automotive and petrochemical industries. As a member of Carnegie Mellon University’s Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, the nation’s leading collaborative effort in robotics and workforce innovation, WCCC partners with top robotics firms. At least 68 students and 21 workers/trainees will obtain new positions or enhance their current employment during the project period.

Other DOE-ARC collaborations include the Appalachian Energy and Petrochemical Renaissance: An Examination of Economic Progress and Opportunity, a report that found petrochemical manufacturing currently in development in Appalachia is projected to attract between $16 billion and $20 billion in capital investment, and create more than 9,800 jobs directly and indirectly in Appalachia by 2025.

The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide clean energy while safeguarding the environment. NETL’s work supports DOE’s mission to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy and environmental challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.